Reading Mark 8:22-30
Remember when we began our journey through the Gospel according to Mark. I said that from his introduction the gospel breaks out into four main areas. Part one begins by the kingdom going public; from the disciples to the crowds who follow from a safer distance and then those who oppose Jesus teaching. Part two presents the mystery of the kingdom; we are led through those tensions of faith and misunderstanding and how these may or may not sit side by side. Now we are arriving at part three which sees that mystery unveiled through the cross and the way of discipleship for those who follow, not only at that time in history, but in later generations too, including our own. This morning we reach the midpoint in the Gospel according to Mark, not only in the numbering of the chapters this being eight of sixteen but in the whole format and unveiling of his message. As we do so Jesus finishes still with that element of mystery as he heals the blind man he tells him, ‘don’t go into the village’ I am pretty sure that would be the first thing any one of us would want to do. Go and tell all the people that we have known all our lives, all of those who have loved us and helped us throughout our life, about this miraculous healing that has taken place, but no, Jesus says, don’t go and tell the others. The time has come as we reach this midpoint for Jesus to change his focus. He now wants to know how much the disciples have grasped and understood from all that they have seen and heard so far. These are the ones who have been there morning, noon and night. They have spoken with Jesus in the most public of places and listened as he taught them in the private moments too. He has spoken of the mysteries through parables and followed this with explanation of them. Harder things are yet to come for them and no doubt further confusion and misunderstanding will be encountered along the way. Jesus does not beat about the bush but goes direct to the heart of the matter. ‘who do people say I am?’ ‘John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet’ are among the responses. We need to go behind this question for a moment to give us some perspective on the reason for asking it. The blind man had his sight partially restored but not completely until the moment Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes until that point people looked like trees after it they were clearly visible. Jesus has been doing the same thing with his disciples, bit by bit he has been opening their eyes to the truth and depth of who he is and so he asks them directly, ‘but who do you say I am?’ All of the responses to the first question show something of a partial understanding, each of them place Jesus in a special place with a unique status but it all falls on the shoulders of Peter to give the answer that Jesus was waiting to hear, ‘you are the Christ.’ Jesus needs them not to go telling this as he knows the result will be the people trying to crown him as king before his work was completed, for now at least, the mystery must remain in place for others.
Reading Mark 8:31-38
You would be justified, having heard Peter’s confession, to think the disciples are now seeing things a whole lot clearer. What one of us would not think that the disciples now know the truth? They have announced, through Peter, that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Why then are we moving straight into Jesus offering further explanations of what needs to happen next? The cross and the empty tomb will be the way of salvation made to known to all the world. Even after what is described as Jesus speaking plainly about this the same Peter reveals once more that lack of understanding, that need for his sight to be adjusted further that he may see the real Jesus. Peter was so like all the others, expecting an earthly king, he could not grasp the things of suffering that Jesus speaks of and he rebukes Jesus. You may remember I said early in this series of sermons that Mark was the source material for the other gospels and that some scholars say Peter was possibly the source for Mark. You may also remember that I said Peter is there, or there abouts, at most of the major points along the journey, along with James and John. Next week we will see that is true when we look at the transfiguration and all three are in attendance. For now, I want to think on Peter and how his retelling of things is quite frankly very honest and humble. For example, how many of us would tell the bad bits if we didn’t have to. Peter lets it be known that Jesus refers to him in a very negative way, ‘get behind me Satan,’ now that’s bad enough but there is more, ‘you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ This type of recording of the Gospels fills me with great confidence in them and the truths they contain. If you were sitting down to write a manifesto hoping to encourage others to follow then you would leave out the warts and all part, you would not let it be known that you don’t actually understand fully what is happening around you, but not the gospels and certainly not the Gospel according to Mark, it’s all in there for anyone to read. The reading last week told us that not all things will run smoothly and the ground we cover may not always be receptive to what it is we have to say. This week we have this honest reflection of how Peter sets out to put Jesus in his place for talking about things he did not wish to hear far less understand and the whole thing is turned on its head as Peter ends up being the one who is corrected. The tension of the gospel narrative will be cranked up somewhat from here on in. Imagine how difficult it would be to hear a friend tell you that the road ahead for them will be much about pain and suffering and death. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to comprehend that this must be the way for you to go also. I think it is more difficult to grasp all of that for those hearing this in real time and for the first time without the benefit of looking at the whole episode some two thousand years or so later than it is for us now, looking back and imagining how we would have reacted. With the completed picture in our hands it can be so much easier to cast a critical eye over the unfinished work of the disciples. The demands on those who follow are described in graphic language. Death on a cross could never be seen as any sort of reward but Jesus tells them that for the disciple this is the path to take. The cross in itself is not the reward it is the life that follows death on a cross that is the promise of eternal life with Jesus and the heavenly hosts, that is the prize, this is the reward. The cross leads to the empty tomb, leads to the giving of the Holy Spirit. The cross and the empty tomb will be the way of salvation made to known to all the world.