Liturgy

Changing Gears: A Meditation Based on Mark 8:31-38

Following Christ requires a complete reorientation. Do we really understand what Jesus is asking us to do?

The gospel reading revolves around a misunderstanding that Jesus had with the disciples — notably Peter — when he reminded them that the Son of man must go through great suffering and be rejected, killed, and raised again on the third day. I am not sure if Peter heard the part about being raised on the third day or if he got stuck on the words "suffering" and "rejection," but he lost his composure and forgot who was the Teacher and who was the Student; and proceeded to take Jesus aside to set him straight.

Have you ever been tempted to do that? Have you ever thought: "Lord you didn't understand how this thing was supposed to work. Let me tell you about it again." Peter was there.

Lord it will never happen to you.
Lord I won't let it happen to you.

Jesus was so disturbed that he used the word Satan. "Get behind me, Satan!" He didn't finish answering Peter in the private context that Peter had created to rebuke him. Instead, Jesus called all the crowds together, and with the force of a statement similar to "NOW HEAR THIS!," he said these words:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34 NRSV)

What a shocker! It would appear, from the gospel accounts that people were in the habit of asking Jesus to take them with him. Perhaps they were like the people in some of the recent vehicle commercials — I mean the one where an innocent soul pulls up to a tollbooth, and the attendant practically climbs inside with the driver while giving the speech:

"Take me with you . . .
We can drive to the Andes
Scale the mountains together
Find the exciting places of the earth . . ."

Take note that the speechmaker has: No idea who the person is in the vehicle and no idea where they are going. It was all just a fantasy, invented by a thrill seeker.

Perhaps in this passage, Jesus is reminding us of our fantasies. They and we often have no idea who Jesus was or any realistic idea about where God is going.

And it could be that some of us, like the guy in the vehicle commercial, are thrill seekers, creating our own fantasies and frustrated when our brothers and sisters in the faith will not live them with us.

From the outside looking in, they saw only . . .

Glamour — He is healing folks and raising the dead.
Notoriety — No one teaches like Jesus. Look at how upset the Pharisees are getting!
Excitement — What do you think he might do next?
Power by association — People will know how importantI am when I am seen with him.
Connection — Think of the significant people that I might meet in the crowds!
Business opportunities — Think of the money to be made in book and movie rights!

Inside the crowded corridors of the church world, we are still struggling with what it means to follow Jesus! And yet Jesus warned:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34, NRSV)

Amid the climate of persecution, rejection, and execution for being Christian, the early church understood what this meant. There is a surviving Latin proverb that says: Via Crucis, Via Lucis (The Way of the Cross is the Way of Light). But if we are honest, we modern Christians don't really enjoy any part of it. We don't like self-denial, and we don't like crosses. You may know the writings of William Willimon from his years at the Christian Century, from his books, or from his work at Duke University. He says this in an article about how the modern interpretation of Mark 8:34 is lived out:

"To help us avoid the cross, our theologies first minimize our participation in evil, and then inflate our possibilities for goodness . . . I'm O.K. and you're O.K. and the Department of Health and Human Services will make our community a nice place to live. Unable to be obedient or courageous, we are content to be decent."1
We have had thoughtful reflections about what it means to live on the verges: the place where two dichotomous ideals meet. Might I suggest where the verges are in this passage and perhaps in our lives?

On one side:

I is the first letter of the alphabet.
It is both acceptable and even expected that a person would act in his or her own interests.
There are words such as "regime change" or "collateral damage."
We find individualism and materialism, fame and glory, acquisition and conquest.

But on the other side there is one thing:

God's agenda!

This is how Jesus could stand knowing that he would be crucified.

This is how Jesus could remain on the cross knowing that more than 12,000 angels were at his command.

God's agenda was intimated when he spoke the words: "No human being takes my life, I lay it down (voluntarily); and if I have the power to lay it down, I also have the power to take it up again" (author's paraphrase of John 10:18).

As people of God, we not called to remain at the intersection between colliding worldviews. We are, rather, called to make a conscious choice to stand in the difficult place with God. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this:

"The cross is not the terrible end of an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."2

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34, NRSV)

The words of Christ call for us to mentally change gears. What might that look like? Perhaps we might change from...

I think, therefore I am.
I possess, therefore I am.
I control, therefore I am.

To...

God is, therefore I am.
And I am because we (Christians) are!

Let us pray.

1"Taking up the Cross" by William Willimon, Christian Century, March 2, 1983, pages 173-174.

2Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Mark 8:34 in The Cost of Discipleship, revised and unabridged edition containing material not previously translated (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963, ISBN 0-02-083850-6), page 99.

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