Meditation on This Week's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, September 13, 2009:
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm: Psalm 116:1-8 (Psalm 116:1-9 NRSV)
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 19
Second Reading: James 3:1-12
Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
I can only imagine how much the Jesus in today's Gospel must have baffled people--Peter even goes so far as to rebuke him. It's important to remember that Jews during the time of Jesus weren't looking for the kind of spiritual savior that we have in mind when we use the term Messiah; Jews during this time period expected their Messiah to be a great warrior who would kick the Romans out of the homeland.
And here's Jesus, talking about being rejected by everyone and being killed and rising again; he mentions crosses--in that time, the only ones picking up a cross were those on their way to their own brutal public executions.
This Gospel was written during a later time of social upheaval (and written about an earlier time of social upheaval)--the reason the Gospel of Mark sounds so apocalyptic is because the Christian community feared attack from various quarters. This Gospel is written both to calm the community, as well as to give them strength to face what is coming, and the courage to do what must be done. The last chunk of the Gospel shows this motivation clearly. What good is our earthly life if, in preserving it, we lose our souls?
An intriguing question, even today--a time of social upheaval, where there are plenty of events to frighten us. Notice the language of Jesus. Following him is a choice. Crosses don't just fall on us out of the sky; we choose to pick them up when we follow Jesus.
It's a marketing scheme that you would never find in today's "How to Build a MegaChurch" model books. Emphasize suffering? Why on earth would people want a religion like that?
It's interesting also to reflect on Jesus' words at the close of this chapter--are we ashamed of Jesus? Do people know we are Christians by our actions? If they ask us about our faith life, are we able to speak coherently (or at least openly) about it?
These questions take me back to when I taught more classes. Several years ago, on a Monday evening, a student asked if she could see a book I had on my desk: The Violence of Love. I'm not sure what she thought it was, but I'm fairly sure she didn't think it was a collection of the homilies of Archbishop Oscar Romero (martyred for his faith and preaching on social justice in El Salvador in 1980). After class, she asked me "Are you Christian or Catholic?" In the past, I might have evaded the question by explaining how Catholics really are Christians. Or I might have hemmed and hawed and explained how my Christian faith and practice was different than that behavior of other Christians which embarrassed me.
On that Monday, I opted for simplicity. I said, "Christian." We talked about the book and Oscar Romero, about her Catholic upbringing and my Lutheran one, about her drift away from church and how she yearns for church but is afraid of it. She asked if she could find me next quarter to continue this conversation, and I said, "Any time."
I know that sometimes Jesus must cry himself to sleep when he watches my behavior. I like to think that on that Monday night, he said, "That Kristin. She's finally showing some signs of spiritual maturity." I like to think that he woke up Oscar Romero to tell him how his work still resonates. I like to think of Jesus and Oscar Romero, sharing some leftover flan that they found in the celestial refrigerator.
Are you willing to pick up your cross? Are you willing to talk about Jesus without being ashamed? Are you willing to follow Jesus, even though you must be aware that "we as Christians participate in the only major religious tradition whose founder was executed by established authority" (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 91). And not only the founder, but many of the early missionaries of the faith, like Paul and Peter. If you're practicing Christianity the way you should be, you'll be a threat to the established order. Are you willing to take that risk?