Life Saving and Losing
Week of Sunday March 8, Second Sunday in Lent
Bible: Mark 8:31-38
Before this week's Gospel, Mark has been building up to the key discovery: Jesus is the Messiah.
Mark 8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?' And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.' He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.' And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
In this week's Gospel the real education begins. "Yes, I am the Messiah, but now you have to learn what that means." This is like the disciples' reality check. Messiah is not what they think.
31 Then 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.'
People could not believe this of the Messiah! But Jesus was very clear this response of Peter was a human response, opposed to what God had planned. He was looking at things from the wrong perspective. How often do we leap into action because something is "wrong," when really we have not taken the time to check our perspective?
Peter was not being unreasonable here. He plays the part of all of us at this point. He was responsibly defending and upholding what everyone knew! The Messiah could not suffer and die, handed over to the Romans by his own people. He was to be saviour of his people, a victor, one who would rule with justice.
This little vignette sums up why we need Lent! In all our busyness we need a sustained self examination about what are divine things and what are human things. We need to reconsider and assess our direction and loyalties.
To determine a path in our youth, or at some other time, and "stay true" to it without periodic critique and assessment is not to be faithful. It is to go to sleep.
34 He 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?
He called the crowd with his disciples; this is for all people. There is no ordained religious class here, no special discipleship, and there are no exceptions. If anyone wants to be my follower....
In A Man for all Seasons, Sir Thomas More says to the man who betrayed him to Henry, "What did he give you." Shamefaced, the man says, "Wales." More replies, "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?" I remember his incredulity in the performance I saw.
What is really important? There is a huge claim here. What seems important will be nothing, what seems so foolish as to be a loss of life, will be what gains us life. The only way to follow Jesus is to deny ourselves. That denial means to "take up our cross." It means to be prepared to face even death for our conviction.
Like Sir Thomas More, we may do our best to avoid it, but if there is no other way then that's the way we go. The thing which More understood was that to save our life, by deserting our discipleship, is actually to lose our life.
Some perspectives on the Faith see this losing our life as a condemnation to hell. We can see where that comes from:
8:38 Those 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.
But this pushing the consequence of discipleship and denial into the hereafter misses the enormous significance of discipleship and denial now. In some profound way, saving our life now, loses it. Losing our life now, saves it.
I think of a couple of my colleagues. The issue is not important, but as respected leaders, they took a stand. It cost them a lot. They were written off by many of us. But what men they are! They have grown. They have gained life.
37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
This is really serious stuff! I'm agnostic about the imagery of eschatological end times. Who knows what the future may bring? The Jesus of Mark says, " Those 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." Maybe the literalists are correct, and some will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds" with great power and glory. I don't care. God will do what God wants.
What I do care about is being old. What I care about is living with me. Because I have seen people who are old and at peace. And I have seen those who are bitter, and in denial, and have lost their lives.
And I have seen those who are simply vacuous, sold out to consumer comforts and a good life, somehow unconscious of what really matters. It's not that they are bad people, or nasty. It's just that I meet them in hospital, or planning for a funeral, and somehow they seem less aware, and less wise than a little child.
I'm not talking about fear. Nor about sadness, or grief, or anger at untimely death. I'm talking about those times when I'm left wondering, "Well, what did you think life was about? Did you really believe that having a nice house in Burnside was what matters?" That terrifies me. God save me from that.
We had a street person come into church last Sunday. I tried to help. I gave him some money for a couple of meals. But he was dfinite that he needed $159.00 for the local caravan park in the next half hour, or he would have his wife and children taken from him. The story changed as he told it. I offered to ring the park and guarantee I'd make the payment, but he wouldn't let me do that... like the times I've gone around to the service station to buy fuel for people with an empty tank, instead of giving them the money... and found their petrol tank took 78 cents worth of petrol!
I tried to talk with him about what he really needed, and what was really going on, and he became more insistent and abusive. And I couldn't help. I hate it. I feel so useless at this stuff.
But every time I just duck the issue- "No, sorry, I haven't got any cash on me," I say to the beggar on the corner- each time I do that, it erodes something of my soul. It's being ashamed of the Christ.
I'm not talking about self-justification, and feeling less guilty. It's deeper. I don't want to be in a nursing home knowing I was comfortable, but I always walked past the people on the street corner, and left them, and wasted my life. The Son of Man would be ashamed of me.
He 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. For 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!