Scripture Passage: Mark 8: 31-38 (Lent 2B)
31Then he began to teach them 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.” 34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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.”
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.What things in your life could you never be without? What things in your life really sort of describe who you are? I think that’s what Jesus was trying to get across to Peter—the point that all of this was more than that, that Peter’s very identity was affected by who he thought Jesus was. Sure, I think Peter got that Jesus was the Messiah. He knew the words. He had been taught the meaning probably from his childhood, the idea that this Messiah would come and bring victory and glory. Put yourself in his place. Here is this great man who you have grown to dearly love. This ministry that he has begun has been great. He truly IS the Messiah for which you have waited so long. What great plans for the future Peter must have imagined!
But then Jesus starts talking about his own coming suffering. This wasn’t the plan that Peter envisioned. Most of us identify with Peter here. This cannot be! There is no way that it is time for Jesus to leave us. This was our Messiah sent here to save us, the Messiah for which we have waited for generations upon generations! Jesus’ harsh statement to Peter jolts us into reality, though. For we do often limit our thinking to things of this world. We want to protect and possess this Messiah. We want a Messiah who will save us on our terms, someone to be in control, someone to fix things, someone to make it all turn out like we want it to turn out, someone to make our lives safer and easier.
Now, contrary to the way our version of the Scriptures interprets it, I don’t think Jesus was accusing Peter of being evil or Satan or anything like that. Who could blame Peter? He’s just like us! Listen further…If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. We’ve all read that verse before. We’d like to make it read a little easier. We would rather skip through the end of Holy Week and go straight to Easter morning. That’s why this season of Lent is so difficult. It won’t let us do that. The cross is not something that we look to only in the past. The cross is not something that we look to at the end of our lives. This is not some goal for farther down the road. This is not some plan laid out for our lives. This is here; this is now. It’s talking about the journey. It’s talking about our listening to God’s calling us in our lives now. It’s talking about letting your life go NOW! If this were easy, then we wouldn’t need Christ. We’re not asked to just believe in Christ; we’re asked to follow….all the way to the cross.
I know what you’re all thinking. I’m not so sure I signed up for this. What happened to that Messiah that was going to take away all our troubles—you know calm all the storms and such? What happened to that Savior that would solve all of our problems so that life wouldn’t be so hard? Ooops! Wrong Savior!
Now, don’t get me wrong. We are not called to be martyrs. We’re not called to suffer unbearable pain as proof of our devotion to Christ. I’m pretty sure that none of us will ever be victims of first century Roman persecution. Our crosses are as unique as our DNA. Taking up our cross means simply letting go, letting go of those things that shield us from God, that get in the way of us really living, that stand in the way of who we are called to be. For some of us, it means letting go of a plan for our lives and instead journeying a little farther into the wilderness as we follow God’s lead. For others, it may mean letting go of our life security so that others may share in it. For still others, it might mean letting go of hurt and pain and instead picking up the mantle of forgiveness that leads to life. It may just mean finally getting up enough courage to quit standing on the shore to our lives and finally, finally jump into the deep end with no fear of how far you will sink before you rise. Each of us is different. Taking up our cross means, as Joseph Campbell said, being willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
There is an old story that originated somewhere along the banks of the Mediterranean that tells of a really old man, who had lived a long and very happy life on a beautiful island. He loved his island, where all his family, for generations, had lived and made their home. And so, when he realized that he was approaching his last days of his life, he asked his sons to take him outside one last time. There, he knelt, and gathered a handful of native soil, and clutched it tightly.
Soon afterwards, the man died and came to the gates of Heaven. He was greeted joyfully and was told by one of the angels, “You have lived a good life. Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven. Please come in.” But when the man tried to cross the threshold, he was kindly told, “You must let go of the soil that you are clutching.” “Oh no, I could never do that,” he cried, “This is my native soil, the earth of my beloved island home.” The angels at the gate were sad as they went back to heaven, leaving the old man wandering, lonely, outside.
Many years passed, and the angels came again. They brought the old man a taste of the heavenly banquet and feasted with him there, outside the gates, trying to persuade him to come into the fullness of the Kingdom. He wanted so much to join them for all eternity, but again, when they asked him to let go of the soil he was clutching, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. And again, they had to leave him standing there, alone.
Finally, after many more years had passed, the angels came again and this time, they brought with them the old man’s granddaughter, who had grown old in the meantime and had died herself. She was delighted to see her beloved grandfather standing there. “Oh, Granddad,” she cried, “I’m so happy to see you. Please come and join us in the heavenly Kingdom. We love you so much, and we want you with us for all eternity.” The old man was overwhelmed to see his little granddaughter there, and in his joy, he flung out his arms to embrace her. And as he did so, the soil slipped right through his fingers. With great joy, the angels now led him into his heavenly home, and the first thing he saw there was the whole of his beloved island, waiting there to greet him.
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.(Steven Pressfield)
Grace and Peace,