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TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (16th September 2018)

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 8:27-35
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.


ON BEING A CHRISTIAN – THE COST

In recent times we marked the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. In Washington DC there is a monument to remember the men who gave their lives so that women and children could have the lifeboats. Every year the members of the Men’s Titanic Society gather at the monument around midnight tto drink a toast to the brave men who sacrificed themselves in the frigid waters on that fateful night.
Jesus tells his disciples, ‘whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it’. We may wonder if we have the courage to follow this teaching. Perhaps when the moment confronts us, there will arise within us an unknown power to make the hard decisions.
As far as we can tell, few of Jesus’ first followers carried out their commitment to die with Jesus in the same physical way in which he died – to suffer physical death because of their discipleship of being a Christian. But the evangelist was convinced that everyone could imitate Jesus’ psychological death. So, Mark demonstrates the way we are to die with Jesus in three successive chapters and the first of these is in the Gospel selected for today. The evangelist begins each episode with Jesus predicting his suffering, death and resurrection. Someone then says or does something that shows they have completely misunderstood what it means to die. And finally, Jesus corrects this misunderstanding, showing what dying with him really means. In today’s narrative, Peter who had just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ is given the role of misunderstanding what it means to imitate Jesus’ suffering and death. So, Peter took Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus’ harsh command ‘Get behind me Satan’, follows the comment. He wants to nip such a ‘no death heresy’ in the bud, before it infects the whole community. The word ‘Satan’ here is a code word in Hebrew meaning ‘an obstacle in someone’s path,’ and this seems to be how Jesus employs it. Being a disciple means someone who follows behind someone else – a leader – so what Jesus is saying to Peter is simply this – ‘Stop being an obstacle to my ministry, Peter! Get your unbelieving face out from in front of me and go behind me, be a disciple. Do what I do, not what you would like me to do!’
Jesus’ clarification is one of the best-known passages in scripture. ‘Those who wish to come after me, must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who wish to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for my sake will save them’.
For Mark, being open, willing to carry out whatever God asks us to do, is the first step in dying with Jesus, the first step in becoming another Christ. Jesus, who immerses himself completely in the human
condition, experienced every sort and every degree of suffering in order to translate that experience into an eloquent expression of love. That suffering identified Jesus as the Christ the Messiah, the promised one and Saviour.
Sigmund Freud said that we human beings are threatened by suffering from three directions, from our own bodies, which are doomed to decay sending out pain and anxiety as warning signals. From the external world which may wage against us with merciless forces of destruction and finally from our relationship with others – perhaps the most painful of all. So, our sufferings, from whatever source, when united with those of Jesus Christ, identify us as his own – it’s the cost of being a Christian.

Kevin Lyon
Archdeacon of Glendalough


 


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