Pentecost 16 Year B
“But turning and looking at His disciples, he rebuked Peter and said— Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind, not on divine things, but on human things. ‘
One minute Peter is praised for getting the answer right, when he recognises Jesus as the Messiah; the next minute he is severely reprimanded for revealing his wrong understanding of what “Messiah” means. It is a turning point indeed.
Up to this point, in Mark’s Gospel, the exact nature of Jesus as Messiah has been kept secret. Do you re-call from the Gospel readings since Pentecost from Mark’s Gospel, how people kept wondering who Jesus really was? In the Capernaum synagogue — “What is this? A new teaching — with authority?” Remember in Chapter Four — “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
Remember, too, how in the early chapters, only the evil spirits and demons recognised who Jesus really was: “I know you, you are the holy one of God!”
The unclean spirits in Chapter Three shout — “You are the Son of God”. Recall, also how amazed people are when Jesus heals the sick in Chapter Five, and in Chapter Six, how people speculate that Jesus might be John the Baptist come back to life, or Elijah or one of the prophets of old.
Jesus’ real identity had been a well-kept secret right up to the moment when Peter spoke out — “You are the Messiah”. What would your answer be to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” How much do words like Messiah — Christ — Son of God — Saviour — Redeemer really get to the heart of the matter for you?
What about — “The propitiation of our sins” — or, “supreme mediator between God and humankind”?
What about words such as — teacher, healer prophet, priest, king, shepherd — do they get to the heart of who you know Jesus to be? What kind of answer would you give? What kind of answer did Peter mean?
Ever since he had been called away from his fishing nets, Peter had felt himself drawn deeper into the mystery of Jesus very being. Peter had listened to the stirring teaching and recognised the voice of authority. He had witnessed the
remarkable acts and recognised the unprecedented power, as lepers were cleansed, demoniacs released, storms stilled, and the dead raised. It must have been so disturbing,
Ever since he had been called away from his fishing nets, Peter had been struggling to give voice to his growing conviction — and now at last he could contain his conviction no longer. He spoke out and heard himself say — “You are the Messiah!”.
It must have been so disturbing. No sooner had the words left his lips than Peter saw the smile leave Jesus’ face. No sooner had Peter looked into Jesus’ eyes to receive the affirmation of faith, than he heard the voice of rebuke. It must have been so disturbing. No sooner had Peter unfolded his vision of Messiahship, than Jesus cuts in and stands the concept on its head. No sooner had Peter contemplated regal glory, than Jesus spoke of suffering, rejection and death. It must have been so disturbing.
No sooner had Peter penetrated the depths of divine intention, than Jesus calls him “Satan” and accuses him of setting his mind on things that are human not on things that are of God. It must have been so disturbing. A turning point, indeed.
From this point in Mark’s Gospel — the fact that Jesus must suffer is made a reality. And, Jesus implores: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The challenge presented to Peter, and to us, by the words of Jesus, is to build the kingdom of God. But…”deny yourselves” and “take up your cross” – does not mean we should punish ourselves; these words do not mean we condemn ourselves to a life of self-inflicted hardship. It is that judgemental, controlling constraining ego, we have to die to. That source of guilt and self-criticism that causes a paralysis of self-esteem and may lead to an intolerance of others and other ways, which will stunt our growth as individuals: that, is what we must die to. To “take up our cross” does not mean we should welcome every bit of suffering which comes our way and drags us down. It means we should be constant and faithful in following Christ, where ever we are led.
God’s kingdom can only be established by subverting the values of the world. By a willingness to embrace lowliness and humility.
If we want to know how to be a Christian; a follower of Jesus – the question to ask is: “what would Jesus do?” The answer is: take a bowl and a towel; get on our knees and wash feet. No picking and choosing whose feet. Everyone’s feet. Even the feet of those who would betray us.
After Jesus was betrayed, he rarely spoke again. The earthly ministry of Christ — the Messiah — was completed almost in total silence. The silence of love. No speaking, just giving.
With its obsession for soundbites, explanations, justifications, objectives and accountability, in the eyes of the world, the silence of Jesus — as he was nailed to the cross – was the silence of failure. In the eyes of God, it was God’s creation healed. Amen.