Mark 8:27-38 (see below): Jesus gives his disciples a pop-quiz. “You’ve heard what people think of me. Now … what do you think of me?” And Peter answers, “You’re God’s Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ.” Officially speaking, Peter’s right, and we already know that. Mark’s already told us who Jesus is (1:1). And here’s Peter telling Jesus the same thing. It’s the officially right answer. So we expect Peter to get an A+.
That’s not what happens—no A+, no “Congratulations,” no pat on the head for Peter. Instead Jesus cuts him off with a warning: “Don’t you dare tell anybody.” Peter gives the right answer, and Jesus shuts him up. And we’re left wondering what’s going on here. In Mark’s Gospel it seems every time somebody says who Jesus officially is he tells them to keep quiet. It’s like he’s one of those people who just can’t take a compliment. What’s his problem? What’s wrong with the right answer?
Well, maybe, just maybe, Jesus is worried about all the mischief God’s people can commit once they’re sure they’ve finally got the right answers. Maybe having the officially right answers isn’t the point.
Also, Jesus is especially worried about what people might do in his name if they keep calling him Messiah. It’s not that the label is wrong, but it has taken on a lot of baggage that has nothing to do with the kind of difference Jesus wants to make in the world. Instead of destroying God’s opposition he’s going to let them destroy him! It’s not anybody’s version of a success story.
So Jesus rebukes Peter for not getting that, and then turns to everybody else and says, “If you’re going to follow me, if you’re going to get behind me, you’ll have to learn what it’s like to wind up on a cross. You’ll have to fall in love with a world that all too often won’t love back. You’ll have to give up dreams of winning, of putting down your opponents, and start longing for reconciliation. There’s only one way to find your life, and that’s by letting it go into the common life God is bringing to us already. All of us, not just the winners. Let go. Stop trying to win. It may look like dying, and you’re guaranteed to know intense pain and loss, but that’s actually when you’ll finally start living for real.”
Are you ready for that? I’m not. But this is the common life God is sharing with us already, patiently but stubbornly drawing us into a life of self-giving love, however long that may take. That’s Jesus’ unsettling good news.
Mark 8:27-38: 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. 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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.” 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? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”