The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 8th Chapter
Then Jesus began to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Dana Carvey, from SNL, had a famous character called The Church Lady. He grew up Lutheran, you know, and The Church Lady is based on the real women he knew from a real, Lutheran Church. “Well, isn’t that special.” “Church Chat” was the Church Lady’s show where she would judgmentally interview celebrity guests and wonder out loud what made them do what they did, “Could it be, I don’t know... SATAN!”
This year most of our Gospel stories are from Mark’s Gospel. Mark is the shortest gospel, and one way Mark gets to be the shortest is that he used inside references, so he didn’t waste much ink on back-story. He assumed his readers would know his shorthand, which I’m sure they did almost 2000 years ago. Unfortunately many people have lost the back story and so sometimes without realizing it, we read into Mark’s story things that neither Mark nor Jesus ever intended.
In this lesson, the first bit of shorthand is that, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering.” About a thousand years after Jesus first said this, the idea got into Christianity that God demanded suffering as “satisfaction” for humanity’s sin. People in the middle ages applied the idea of a nobleman’s honor being questioned... you can imagine a scene where a knight is insulted and he throws down his gauntlet to “demand satisfaction”... they applied THAT concept of honor from the Middle Ages to the way they thought God related to humans. They figured that human sin was an offense to God’s honor and therefore God would “demand satisfaction” through human suffering. It fit with how they understood their world. The trouble is that their world didn’t work the way the world worked in Jesus’s day. The concept of offending someone’s honor like that didn’t develop for hundreds and hundreds of years after Jesus, so Jesus having to undergo great suffering was never about God demanding satisfaction.
Jesus’ prediction that he would suffer, wasn’t a suffering God demanded... God doesn’t demand suffering in payment for our sin... instead Jesus’s prediction was that by choosing to follow God’s call for him to confront the exploitive, violent powers of Rome and their collaborators when he got to Jerusalem, that path would lead to him suffering. He was planning to fight the law, and he was expecting the law to win... he also expected it would hurt… a lot... and it turns out he was right on all counts.
The next thing we might miss involves the "elders, chief priests and scribes". Over the years, some in Christianity have become convinced that Jesus’s rebuke of this group of people is a rebuke of Judaism as a whole. But to Mark, the “elders, chief priests and scribes” was shorthand for Roman collaborators. This was Mark’s code for the Jewish people who used their collaboration with the Romans and the cover of religion to legitimize their growing wealth and power gained at the expense of the poor. This was code for the corrupt, not the faithful. Jesus never had an issue with Judaism. He was Jewish after all! He did, however, have a HUGE issue with the individuals who hid behind religion to carry out the injustice of the Roman system which used violence, unfair laws and political corruption to make a few people very, very rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.
So, now we’re back to where we started... we’re back to “I don’t know, could it be... Satan”! In the 1500's Dante made Satan into the red guy with horns and a pitch fork, but for Mark, Satan was shorthand for a tester. This was a point along The Way where a choice was made to continue to follow God’s call or go a different way. This week, Peter was the Satan... the tester and the test was the same test as last week. Neither story questions whether or not Jesus is the Son of God. THAT was a given! The test both times, was HOW Jesus would be the Son of God. Would Jesus go and confront the powers of the Roman Empire and their collaborators in God’s way... in other words, would he confront them face to face, non-violently, pointing out their injustice and corruption and calling them, like the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos and the others had before him, to return to the way God wanted them to live, where some people didn’t have too much while others didn’t have enough of life’s essentials, but to return to a system where everyone had enough? Would Jesus go and show the people and leaders of Israel the need to DIE to the current abusive, corrupt and violent way of life and RISE to a new life? OR would Jesus do it another way... Satan’s way... Peter’s way... our way... my way?
Jesus called Peter “Satan” because Peter was asking Jesus to usher in the Kingdom of God the way PETER felt it should be done... the way Peter grew up understanding it should be done... “the way we’ve always done it”... the way that made PETER feel comfortable... the way that fit PETER’S plan. Peter didn’t want Jesus to confront the Romans head on. He KNEW what would happen... he knew that meant Jesus and all he cared about would DIE and he didn’t want to loose what he had grown to love. Jesus’s plan meant things would not happen Peter’s way and that made Peter irritable, anxious, uncomfortable, twitchy, grumbly and down right mad.
I’m not any different than Peter. WE aren’t any different than Peter. Just like Peter, we all agree on who Jesus is... Jesus is the Son of God AND just like Peter, we’d all rather the Body of Christ, the Church, this church, OUR CHURCH follow OUR plan... do things the way we KNOW will make US feel comfortable... the way that WE have grown to expect things to be. But the truth of this Gospel lesson, the truth of Lent, the truth of the Christian life... is that OUR way, the comfortable way, the way that makes US feel warm and fuzzy is not The Way Jesus is headed. It’s not The Way to Jerusalem... it’s not The Way of the cross. If you want to really be a Jesus follower, DENY yourself every single day, turn from YOUR way and follow the Jesus Way, all the way to the cross. Every day, go to the cross... where our comforts die, where MY way dies... where YOUR way dies... where the familiar, easy, comfortable and safe way DIES. And the promise is… well, the promise is that it will HURT LIKE HELL! But not because God WANTS us to suffer, but because God knows us, and God knows we REALLY will suffer as we struggle to give those things up!
But, there is more to the promise than just a cross, suffering and death. There is also the promise of LIFE on the other side of death... not just a “get by” life either, but an ABUNDANT life... life where peace comes not from the THINGS in our life staying the same, or returning to the glory days, but from a clear understanding and experience of God With us NOW... a peace that passes all understanding... the peace that allows us to experience the Kingdom of God more fully in our lives, even as the Kingdom of God is still coming to fullness out in the world.
We are being tested. Not by a red guy with horns and a pitchfork, but more subtlety than that. The test is will we follow Jesus to Jerusalem? Will we agree to go to the place where what we love and what feels comfortable and what is familiar will die? The test is do we really believe that on the other side of the death of all of that security, familiarity and comfort there really is a LIFE, greater than what we have now? The test is who will we follow, will we keep traveling The Way, will we trust enough to die and will we be brave enough to dare to live? Amen.