You know the ones I’m talking about. Where everything is proceeding normally and out of no where you learn something unexpected. It rocks your world and shakes your beliefs. Everything goes from being normal and understood to simply shattering before you. Life is not what it once was.
These events do not need to be tragic. The news of a pregnancy, an engagement, friendship restored all are cause for celebration. Each of these and more have the power to alter the way that view the world.
However, often when we think about events that change the world we are often drawn to negative events. Invariably what hangs over these events is the spectre of death.
Chris Vais was a Presbyterian Minister who was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1997. In his book For Words: A journal of hope and healing Chris writes the following, “Susan and I left the building in stunned silence. It was a brilliant mid-winter day. Sunlight sparkled off the banks of snow that rose between the street and sidewalk. As we walked hand in hand towards the car, I breathed in deeply of the crisp, cold air. I noticed a woman a few steps ahead of us pushing a stroller. A balding man in a business suit and unbuttoned trench coat leaned casually against a mailbox and chattered into his cell phone. Three high school students sharing a single cigarette huddle together in front of a café. The appearance of normalcy was startling. I though, don’t they realize I’m dying? I’ve just been handed some life-shattering information and the world seems to be carrying on as if nothing was wrong. How can this be?” (p. 31).
An example of what started as a normal day, into which life changing news entered in and changed everything forever.
Enter our gospel story. Peter has just proclaimed that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. No sooner does this happen and Jesus begins to teach the disciples. Jesus teaches that he must suffer much and be rejected by the religious leaders of the day. He would die and three days later he would rise to life. This is reinforced in the text where it writes ‘He made this very clear to them.’ Jesus’ news to the disciples is distressing. It shatters their expectations and no doubt put a cloud over Peter’s earlier proclamation.
As we think about this story we need to consider three things:
- What did Jesus understand the Messiah to be.
- What did Peter understand the Messiah to be.
- What do we understand the Messiah to be
Let’s start with Jesus.
His understanding of Messiah are outlined in our reading. He must suffer and die. He will be raised on the third day. Jesus came to teach and heal, but he also came to die. Jesus knows that this is essential to God’s plan. Jesus defies expectations.
Jesus was not playing about with this message. However, to Peter’s ears it was very distressing. You see the Messiah was not supposed to die.
You can imagine Peter taking Jesus aside, his arm around him, sitting on some rocks. “Listen, Jesus about this death thing. You know that isn’t what we signed up for? You are a descendant of David, when I call you Messiah I mean I expect you are going to overthrow the Romans and drive them out. That David’s throne will be reclaimed and we will be a wealthy, prosperous people!” Today, we’d call this an intervention.
Peter doubts. He doesn’t doubt that Jesus is the Messiah. That belief is intact. However, what Jesus has done is provide him with an alternate version of what it means to be the Messiah. It is this alternate version that Peter is having trouble with.
This is where we see a theological battle emerging. Martin Luther consider this as theologia gloriae versus theologia cruces. The theology of glory versus the theology of the cross.
Peter is expressing a theology of glory; Jesus leads us to the theology of the cross.
Theology of glory is built on the assumptions about the way we expect God to operate in the world. We expect a mighty and victorious God. A God, who can crush enemies, move mountains, cure disease, end war, stop natural disasters and generally make our lives better.
Theology of the cross is grounded in God’s own self-revelation of weakness, suffering and death. Theology of the cross contradicts many of our assumptions of what we feel God should be like.
The way we think things should be is not necessarily the way of God.
We see Jesus’ understanding of Messiah and we begin to understand Peter’s, but what about ourselves? What is our understanding of Messiah?
Do we doubt the story? Do we wrestle with questions of faith? Do we seek understanding?
Peter doubted. Not that Jesus was Messiah, but Peter had problems with Messiah as Jesus explained it. It defied his world view and suddenly Peter didn’t feel like he was on the winning team. You notice that the piece Jesus mentions about coming back from the dead is lost on Peter. Peter can’t get past the fact that Jesus has to die in the first place!
Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
To which Peter replies, “You are the Messiah!”
If we confess Christ as our Lord and Saviour, if we recognize Jesus as Messiah then we need to ask what does that mean for us?
What does it mean for us to say that Jesus is the Messiah? Well I will tell you that it is right there in our gospel reading today. If you want to follow me, forget yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”
What does Jesus mean when he says pick up your cross? Let’s remember that in the Roman empire individuals who were sentenced to death via crucifixion were required to carry their own cross to the site where they would be crucified. Jesus was saying ‘you need to be willing to die’.
In Post-Christendom North America that is not the rallying cry that we hear when we think about following Jesus. Yet, as clear as day that is what Jesus is saying. He continues by stating, “In order to save your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it.”
In order to live you must lose your life. The Greek that is used for the word life here is psyche, which is most accurately translated as soul. Jesus is talking about something far more than just our lives. Eternity seems to be at stake.
Is this the message we have in mind when we think about Jesus as Messiah? Is this the version of Messiah that we are comfortable with? In the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement in the United States brought this question to the forefront. Martin Luther King Jr was willing to pick up a cross for what he believed in, what he believed the gospel was offering. He paid with his life for what he believed in.
It is Lent and we journey together to the cross. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus reflected prevailing views of the world at his time and I do not think much has changed. Peter felt the way to victory was through strength, power and might. That might makes right.
But Jesus says no. There is another way.
Friends, as long as self-interest is humanities most defining character trait we will always be seeking short cuts to reach the kingdom. We will look for another way, any way but the cross. When we are able to turn our backs on our own selfishness and open our hearts to others then we can move forward in the way of the cross. When we can accept a difficult message about Jesus and what following him means, then we can understand who we are called to be as Christians.
We can pick up our cross and we can follow Jesus. Amen.
Text: Mark 8: 31-38