Which Cross to Bear

Scriptures: · Psalm 19:1-14; · Second Reading James 3:1-12; · Gospel Mark 8:27-38

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Let’s begin today with a question. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Do any of you have some thoughts you’d be willing to share?

After all that Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah,” then Jesus asks them all not to tell anyone…that’s kind of strange. The next question to ask then becomes, why do you suppose Christ asked that question? Was he trying to teach something? Hide something? Test them? Reveal only to a few? I don’t know about you, but I find this passage somewhat troubling.

One commentator suggested that when Peter answered, he “likely [had] in mind a political liberator who would free the people of Israel from tyranny.”[1] But that was not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus has to re-teach what his role as Messiah was. Not political take-over and liberation from Rome so the Jews can begin to head in the direction of and independent and sovereign nation again, but the liberation from the bondage of something else entirely, something called “sin” which some have termed a break in one’s relationship with God. I wonder, is that personal, or is that communal – like the whole nation-state of Israel?

In order to be liberated from bondage to sin, in Jewish understanding of clean and unclean personally, a sin offering must be made at the Temple before a person’s new beginning can commence once more. Yet there is also the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur. This is a new beginning on a communal corporate level.

Again, if I remember correctly, this is when official sin offering is made on behalf of the entire community, and all the work of Rosh Hashanah – going about and asking forgiveness from all whom we have wronged in the past year – culminates in a completely fresh start for the entire nation of the Jewish people.

Jesus, of course, changes and fulfills the communal “sin offering” in a completely new way. No longer do sacrifices of living animals have to be slaughter for substitutionary atonement. He is the offering, thus his teaching on suffering, rejection, and public execution. As our liturgies and songs tell us, he takes on the sin of the world and takes it to the grave with him leaving all of Creation, not just the Jewish people, renewed.

But that is not the only interpretation. That is a Classical understanding of substitutionary atonement. However,

“An alternate way of interpreting Jesus’ insistence that the Son of Man “must undergo great suffering” is that he needs to endure the depth of human pain in order to reconcile humanity with God. As Paul would say: first for the Jews then for the Gentiles. For Jesus Christ to bring full humanity into communion with God, he must bear the fullness of human experience, including suffering and death. As Gregory of Nazianzus said, “that which he has not assumed he has not healed.”2 According to this interpretation, Jesus’ suffering and death are not an extrinsic necessity imposed from outside, but an intrinsic necessity, the outworking of God’s decision to enter into and reclaim the whole of human existence.”[2]

What follows next in the passage is even more challenging to some.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (vv. 34–35).

I would think “losing their life” must also be reinterpreted, for those who have already been denied by systems of oppression and violence cannot find in this message any “good news” at all. Self-denial just perpetuates the problem. Instead, perhaps it might help to think of it in an alternate sense, one of “lost-ness.” What needs to be lost in order for a greater saving grace? One example might be addiction. Certainly, denying oneself an addiction leads to greater healing and wholeness. There is no question that is true. Certainly denying oneself harmful worldviews toward others not the same as ourselves leads to greater compassion, greater love of neighbor, and thus a greater heart – maybe even a heart closer to God’s own.

“The experience of Peter serves as an alert for us. We can indeed use our experience of relating to other people as an analogy for how we can relate to Jesus, and we can express our understanding of who he is for us in various ways. But when we speak of Jesus and who he is for us, we need to do so with the humility and the reserve that comes from awareness that we may have the title right but may not fully understand its meaning. What does it mean for us if we call Jesus Savior? What does it mean for us if we call Jesus Son of God? What does it mean for us if we too call Jesus Messiah?

In our relationship with Jesus, there is the promise and the hope that somehow the divine perspective on who we are and what we are about breaks through. In [Jesus] God enables us to find a way that is different from the way of the world, enables us to discern how life is fulfilled as God intends, enables us to live by values that are not embodied in the normal course of human affairs.

Jesus puts God’s perspective in stark terms for Peter and for us. We are to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him into a life of serving and giving and sacrificing. Then the promise: “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.””[3]

Now put yourself back into the story from today. Imagine yourself as one of those walking along with Jesus. Listen as he speaks to you:

“Who do people say that I am?”                “But who do you say that I am?”

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

And in that journey, I pray, may we all find liberation. Amen? May it be so.

 

[1] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Theological Perspective, Mark 8:27-38” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Harry B. Adams, “Pastoral Perspective, Mark 8:27-38” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Ibid.

Questions for Reflection

How do you seek God’s wisdom in your life? What are the signs and symbols of God’s presence that surround your everyday life?

Household Prayer: Morning

As I open my eyes,

I can see the heavens that tell of your glory.

Allow me to be part of this creation

that proclaims your handiwork

and your real presence in the world. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

As the day winds down,

allow me to find satisfaction in the thought

that I have taken my cross and followed you.

Allow me to find rest in the knowledge

that I did not act as if I was ashamed of you.

And if I failed you, forgive me

and allow me to find solace

in the new mercies of the morning. Amen.

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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