In Mark’s Gospel this week it is becoming apparent that Jesus’ mission is becoming more and more revelatory in both word and deed and as a result harder and harder for him to hide and remain unnoticed. Prior to this passage, Jesus had taken the blind man away from the village and crowds so as to heal him and then when healed, swore him to secrecy. Now, Jesus leads the disciples away from the busy goings on of the lake, to converse, test and teach them, and here too he swears them to secrecy. Jesus knows that the journey forward will be a dangerous one that will set him and the disciples apart.
Geographically, Mark takes us from the lake side of Bethsaida and on a journey into the slopes of the mountains surrounding Caesarea Philippi, and as Jesus and the disciples climb, Mark also takes us to the peak of the Gospel. Along with the disciples, we scan back over the landscape of where we have come from and all that has occurred so far, as listeners, readers and disciples ourselves, we are being invited to see all that has brought us this far, to piece together all that Jesus has been and done and how it has changed us.
Now Jesus wants to know that the disciples have fully understood the magnitude of all that they have witnessed and been taught. Not just on the surface, but looking to see if they had really grasped what was going on and what might be still to come. When Jesus asks Peter “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds with “You are the Messiah”.
Immediately they are sworn to secrecy. This had now become dangerous talk.
Jesus goes on to teach them how the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected by all and be killed, only to rise again after three days. Peter cannot get his head around this! Peter was still thinking of Jesus in terms of a victorious military king from the line of King David, someone with enough power to stand up to and defeat the Romans. But Jesus’ Messiahship was in fact the Messiah of Isaiah 53: the suffering servant king, the one who will bring about God’s rule by giving up his life in Jerusalem. And when Peter expresses his deep disapproval for what was said, Jesus fiercely put him in his place “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”.
The disciples are still struggling to get it. Maybe their minds won’t allow them to really see what is going on because following the ‘King Jesus’ they had in their minds would bring great things with it, such as fame and status but what Jesus was explaining meant something completely different.
Jesus goes on to have a further two conversations with the disciples later on in Mark’s Gospel as the disciples grapple and struggle to come to terms with the truth of what was to come. Jesus had come as the Son of Man not to be served as any earthly king would be, but instead to become the servant, by giving his life as a ransom for many. To follow him would be like saying yes to dying. The death of the old self and attachment to all of those earthly desires that lead to self importance and instead taking up the cross of self sacrifice and service to others.
It is not surprising that the disciples and us alike find it so very hard to allow our minds to consider that this is what is needed of us. To leave behind our attempts at trying to please the world and the idea that the world can please us, and turn instead to following Jesus in all we do, say and be.
I personally cannot say that I have cracked this one. I will probably never crack this one in my lifetime, it is an ongoing process that brings with it both joy and sadness. But Jesus continually invites the crowds, disciples, all whom he meets and us to follow him by denying ourselves, taking up our own cross, and consciously journeying into the suffering, rejection, death and finally the resurrection.
God’s rescue operation for the world as promised in the Old Testament was a promise for the Israelites, those in Jesus’ time and is still a promise for us today. That if we keep setting our minds on divine things, rather than be distracted and overcome by human things, our lives will be saved. Jesus calls us to leave behind pleasing the world and instead follow him. It has to be Jesus first, divine first, then and only then will we see everything that our human lives are made up of, through the correct filter. Jesus is God’s gift of grace to us after all.
Jesus’ response is what counts. Not the worlds’. Like the disciples, it may take our whole lives to comprehend what all of this really means for us personally and in all likelihood we will never fully understand but in this passage from Mark’s Gospel we are being assured that in following what God has offered us in grace: his son Jesus Christ, when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father and with the holy angels, of us he will not be ashamed.
Ordinand - St Peter’s Church, Sheringham.