The Second Sunday In Lent: February 28, 2021
Year B: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Perhaps it’s a bit irreverent, but I have this mental picture of the disciples.
It’s several years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples are together. They are talking about the good old days, reminiscing the way friends who have shared a life-changing experience often do. Then one of them looks at Peter and says, “Hey Satan, tell us about the day you rebuked Jesus!” Another joins in, “Yeah, how’d that work out for you?” Another, “What were you thinking about, Peter?”
Peter says: “You know I didn’t like the whole suffering and dying thing. I didn’t get it. That’s not what I signed up for. That’s not who I thought the Messiah would be.”
The others become quiet. They recall that day like it was yesterday. They begin to realize that Peter didn’t say anything they weren’t thinking. Let’s be honest – Peter didn’t say anything most of us haven’t thought about or even wanted to say because Jesus has a very different understanding of discipleship than what most of us probably understand.
Honestly, haven’t we, at some point, disagreed with Jesus, asking why he doesn’t do what we want? Why won’t he see the world our way?
If Jesus can cast out the demons and silence the crazy guy in the synagogue, surely he could silence the voices that drive us mad.
If Jesus can heal Peter’s mother in law why not those we love? Why can’t Jesus stop the pandemic that has gripped our world for the last year?
If Jesus can calm the sea, surely he could calm the storms of our world. Yet they rage on; school violence, violence against one another, war, poverty.
If Jesus can feed 5000 with a few fish and pieces of bread, why does much of the world go to bed hungry?
I have wondered about these things. I have been asked these kinds of questions by people challenging the existence of God. I know some who have lost faith and left the church over these things.
These are our rebukes of Jesus. He is not being or acting as we want. Sometimes his words challenge and shock us. Maybe we’re not so different from Peter.
Just a few verses before today’s gospel, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter names him as “the Christ,” the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Jesus is the one of whom the prophets spoke, the one for who Israel has waited, the one who was supposed to restore God’s people. Peter is right. However, he also does not understand exactly what that means because Peter has an image of what the Messiah is supposed to do and who the Messiah is supposed to be.
I mean surely God did not enter into covenant with his people and bring them out of Egypt into the promised land only to say, “Now let it all go.” The Messiah is supposed to offer security, protection and put Israel back on top. But faith in Jesus, Peter is learning, is not about eliminating risks, preserving life as Peter knew it or thought it should be. Instead, Jesus asked the disciples and asks us to risk it all, abandon our lives, and relinquish control of our lives to God. That is what Jesus is doing, and he expects nothing less of those who would follow him.
Is that the Messiah we expect? Jesus was certainly not the Messiah expected according to the Jewish expectations of the day. The idea that the Son of Man was to suffer is in complete contrast to the expectations for a Messiah.
Certainly, we all have our own images and wishes about who Jesus is and what he should do.
We understand the Jesus who casts out demons, heals the sick, and feeds the multitudes. We like that Jesus. We want to follow that Jesus. He is our Lord and Savior. I’m not so sure we like the Jesus who speaks of suffering and of self-denial.
Jesus, however, will not bend to our images of who we think he is or who we want him to be. Instead, he proclaims himself to be the one who “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.”
But he also sets a choice before us. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus gives us a choice. If we want to follow Jesus. It is a choice we each have to make. But do we understand what that choice and all that it implies.
Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Self-denial is generally not a part of the human condition, at least in this day and age where we want everything now. And I can say that I am as guilty of that need (or is it a want) as anyone. I was just looking at all my Amazon purchases over the years – can you imagine that I can tell you what I ordered from Amazon not only in 2020, but as far back as 2003. But last year, in 2020, Amazon’s net profit, no not sales, profit went up 86% last year over 2019. Some of that profit came directly from my wallet.
Amazon stories aside, what does true discipleship mean?
True discipleship offers us a way that is rooted not in personal profit and personal agendas, but in the glory of God. Jesus tells the disciples exactly how to achieve that disciplieship. His words are hard and his way extreme.
Think about how Jesus lived his life; he gave in a world that takes, loved in a world that hates, healed in a world that injures, gave life in a world that kills. He offered mercy when others sought vengeance, forgiveness when others showed condemnation, and compassion when others were indifferent. He trusted God’s abundance when others said there was not enough. The choices made by Jesus caught the attention of and offended those who lived and profited by power and control. Jesus knew those he offended and those in authority he scared would respond to him. He knew that he would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes. They rejected him as we so often reject Jesus even when we claim to be followers.
Taking up our cross means recognizing Christ crucified in the suffering world around us. Paving the way of true discipleship and following Christ into the world. For those who would come to be known as Christians in the first century it meant almost certain death. We generally do not face the same persecution, but what does taking up our cross mean in today’s world? I think there comes a time in life when we have to look at all we have created for ourselves – is it what God intends for us and for the world around us. What are we doing to alleviate the suffering in the world around us?
It is a good thing that Lent comes around each year. It helps us to remember. It helps us, I hope, remember what the disciples learned – the life we are called to live is one filled with repentance and with hope. And when we follow our Lenten journey, we find a place where death becomes life, and a faith filled with love – with grace – with mercy. Amen.
 Mark 8:20, New Revised Standard Version (All bible verses are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted)
 Mark 8:31
 Mark 8:34, Emphasis added
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