Gospel: Mark 8:27-35
The Dangers of Words
What dangers do we face in modern life? Which dangers are immanent? Why?
Words have power. In spite of the volume of verbage our society indulges in, one wrong word can turn a person against another. Friends become enemies. Family members become estranged. Loving couples divorce in acrimony. Words bring incrimination and persecution.
Why do simple words turn people against us? Why do some turn people toward us? Forgive the pun, but the answer lies in two words: expectations and commitments.
27 Jesus and his followers traveled to the villages around the big city of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way, Jesus asked his followers, "What sorts of claims do people make about me?"
28 Some say you're like John the Baptist," his followers answered. "Others say you're Elijah who has come down from heaven. A third group says your one of God's prophets."
29 "But, you," Jesus asked, "what sort of claim do you make about me?"
30 "You are the Christ!" Peter answered.
"Don't tell anyone what you told me," Jesus warned them.
31 "To serve God's will," Jesus taught them, "the Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be judged by the leadership in Jerusalem and will be killed there. Then, he rise again from the dead." 32 Jesus spoke very plainly about his teaching. Peter took Jesus aside and argued with him about it. 33 When Jesus turned and saw his other followers, he yelled back at Peter, "Get out of here, Satan! You only want to do what other people want, not what God wants!"
34 "Hey, everyone!" Jesus called out to the crowd, along with his followers. "If you want to be my follower, stop being selfish, be ready to die, and follow me. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But, if you lose you life for me and the Good News, you will have God's life!"
This narrative marked a shift in Mark's gospel. From the point he was recognized by Peter as the Christ, Jesus prophesied his death and began his journey to Jerusalem. The narrative can be divided into three parts: 1) the question and answer, 2) the dispute and Peter's rejection, 3) the prophesy.
27 JESUS and his disciples went out into the villages (in the area) of Caesarea Philippi. On the way, HE was asking his disciples, saying, "Who do men claim me to be?" 28 The (disciples) said to HIM, "(Some say) John the Baptist, others (say) Elijah, but others (say) that (you are) one of the prophets." 29 (HE) HIMSELF was asking them, "But, you. Who do you claim me to be?" Peter said to him, "You are the Christ." 30 HE warned them so that they might (not) say (anything) about him to anyone.
8:27 "Who do men claim me to be?" is literally "Who do men say me to be?" Jesus wanted feedback on his reputation.
8:30 "they might (not) say (anything) about him to anyone. " is literally "to no one they might say about him."
"Who do men claim me to be?" Why would Jesus ask such a question? He asked this question not out of self-glorification, but for feedback. Unlike our American myth of the strong, self-reliant individual, Jesus had a different social vision, serving the clan. Self-image did not depend upon one's own abilities, but upon one's place in the extended family and in society. When Jesus asked for feedback, he gauged his reputation among the people. He wanted to know where people thought he fit in. What was his place in popular society?
The disciples answered with the heroes of the past. "John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets." Obviously, the disciples did not the physical embodiment of these men. But they did mean something far deeper. People thought Jesus embodied the spirit of these heroes. John the Baptist? Many thought Jesus continued the Baptist's ministry. Others thought Jesus had the word and power of Israel's first prophet. If Jesus did not have the spirit of Elijah, certainly he had the spirit of the prophets, others claimed. These were words of high praise indeed! To the people, Jesus lived and breathed the prophetic tradition. He was a spiritual leader the people held in esteem.
But Jesus had another question. What did his own group claim he was? Peter, the spokesperson, proclaimed what pressed in all the disciples' minds. He was the Christ! Like last week's admonition, Jesus commanded silence on the matter. Not do downplay the news. But to give Jesus time to explain what he meant by the term "Christ."
31 He began to teach them: "It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribe, to be killed, and after three days to rise up (from the dead)." 32 HE was speaking (this) word freely. Having taken HIM (aside), Peter began to rebuke HIM. 33 Having turned and having seen his disciples, HE rebuked Peter and said, "Go away behind me, Satan, because you do not set your mind on the things of God, but the things of men."
8:33 "Go away behind me, Satan" If a follower was not in the presence of a teacher (literally, "before the face" of a teacher), they were "behind" the teacher (that is, not in the company of the teacher). This was a social rejection (just as turning one's face away from another in public implies a refusal to recognize the presence and the worth of the other). In other words, Jesus told Peter to leave.
"you do not set your mind on the things of God" This was more than Peter's opinion about the mission of the Messiah. The direction and purpose of his heart were not those of God. Jesus declared Peter an enemy of God's will, and, so, a sinner.
Jesus defined the mission of the Messiah in suffering, death, and resurrection. Men would reject him. But God would vindicate him. The power of men would give way to the power of God. Jesus painted this vision in the plainest words possible. No one could escape their meaning. No one could misinterpret or confuse the message.
But Peter had other ideas. He took Jesus aside to challenge his vision. In doing so, Peter struggled with Jesus over leadership in the group. And he did it in a way that was dishonorable. Since Jesus did not fit Peter's concept of the Messiah, he needed guidance. This could only be done behind the backs of others. In a society of the "group" mentality, to do something in private was to undermine the group itself. By pulling Jesus aside, Peter brought shame upon himself because of the scandal his actions brought to the group.
What was Jesus to do? Reject Peter. Jesus' words literally meant excommunication. The words of Jesus could be loosely translated, "Get out of my sight, Evil One! You only care for men's opinion, not God's will!" No harsher words could be spoken. Jesus rebuked Peter in front of the others (the honorable thing to do in a society with a group mentality) and reasserted his authority.
Peter's challenge placed the fisherman outside the circle of disciples. What Peter did was not the way of the true disciple. In response to the challenge, Jesus would define the nature of true discipleship.
34 Having called out to the crowd with his disciples, HE said, "If someone wants to follow after me, let (him) give up any claims for himself, let (him) pick up his cross, and let (him) follow me. 35 For, whoever wants to save his life will destroy it. But, whoever destroys his life on account of me and the Good News will save it."
8:34 "let (him) pick up his cross" does not mean enduring daily struggles. It meant being nailed to a cross. A disciple was to walk the way of the cross with Jesus, for Jesus.
Discipleship had real dangers. To become a follower, one must fulfill two conditions: give up all claims and be ready to die. Jesus meant releasing claims on conflicting personal relationships and be ready to undergo persecution. In other words, to become a Christian meant leaving one's non-believing clan for the Christian community. Giving up family brought group ostracization and backlash, both on the family level and the neighborhood level. Depending upon the poor and lowly Christian community alone had its own dangers. (Consider Acts 8:1-3, for example.)
Cultural Christianity has its comforts. But, living the Christian life has its challenges. Have people criticized you for your virtue, prayer life, or faith practices? How?
"You are the Christ!"
Peter had his expectations and his vision of commitment. He wanted a Messiah to lead to glory among people. But Jesus had different expectations and vision of commitment. Jesus' vision would lead to shame among people but glory before God. When we proclaim Jesus the Christ, let us remember the responsibility those words bring. And the risks those words bring. In the end, they will not make us popular or comfortable. But they will bring us to eternal life.
Reflect on Peter's proclamation. How can you proclaim Jesus as the Christ this week? How can you live the message, in spite of the dangers?