Jesus was tough in this reading. He told Peter to basically, “Shut Up!” He talked about being rejected…suffering…a cross…and death. He will be ashamed of those ashamed of him and his teaching in what Jesus called this “adulterous and sinful generation.” Jesus warned of losing our life – our essence of who we are – in this generation. The warning about losing our life is that once it is lost, how will we get it back? Imagine the cost? Is it even possible? Jesus’ words were hard to hear.
The reading began with Jesus asking the disciples a very simple question about his identity. They gave the various answers that people were wondering about him. Then, Peter blurted out that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter was correct but Jesus wanted his identity to be kept secret – at least for now. When Jesus started to talk about suffering and death, Peter tried to shut him down. There was a strong belief in a coming Messiah. The Messiah would judge the world “adulterous and sinful.” Then, the Messiah would raise up Israel to a place of glory and power. Nobody imagined a Messiah suffering and dying a horrible death on a cross. This was the belief that Peter grew up learning and to which he gave over his life. So when Peter challenged Jesus’ teaching, Jesus shut him down and called Peter’s actions satanic.
A big challenge to being Christian is how the world tries to put us into a category. Are we liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican Christians? Each category has its own set of priorities and demands placed upon us. Each category seeks to exert its power and reach over others. Each category calls us to hand over our life to further its goals. Peter held to the beliefs of his Jewish upbringing and when he tried to force them upon Jesus, the response was being called satanic. If we traded places with Peter and tried to exert our views upon Jesus, I think he’d respond the same to us. Why? Regardless of political opinions the goal is the same: power. Power as defined by this “adulterous and sinful generation.”
Jesus came with a different understanding. He gave his life over not to the vying powers of that day. He gave his life over for a dying world to live. He gave his life over not to prop up one of the world’s powers but to establish the reign of God.
Jesus words of taking up a cross and following him, call out to us today. The cross isn’t a piece of jewelry. The cross is a dramatic challenge placed upon where we are giving over our lives. The cross for us is telling the world to “Shut Up!” So that we may give our life over to the Lord who alone brings life even through a horrible cross.
Jesus warned about handing over our life to the power of the world. If we do, how will we get our life back? Imagine the cost. Jesus showed the cost by living it out for us.
Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration. The season of Epiphany draws to an end. The beginning of Lent is about to start. The vision of Jesus transfigured in glory was a blessing that Peter, James and John were allowed to see. The presence of Elijah, Moses and the voice of God speaking from a cloud left no doubt that they were standing in the light of Divinity. Even though frightened, little wonder that they wanted to build three dwelling places for this moment to continue. Perhaps some jealousy rises to have a glimpse of what they witnessed. The great challenge for us is to look upon Jesus in the light of Mark’s witness and not from our personal/political agendas.
Context is so important. The verses prior to the transfiguration has Jesus teaching that to follow him meant putting aside our personal agendas to follow him. He spoke of taking up a cross if we are going to be his disciples and follow him. This isn’t easy to do. The vision we so often see of Jesus is the Lord who will restore the fortunes of our nation allowing us to maintain position of privilege. We see him giving us the power to shape the political landscape. Once more, this is for our gain. If we want to capture the vision of Jesus’ glory, Mark says that we must do so from the perspective of those putting to death our desire for personal or nationalistic glory.
The voice of God from the cloud was speaking to us, the church.
This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!Mark 9:7
What was it that Jesus had to say? He ordered silence of what was seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. The next verses have Jesus coming down from the mountain to set free a boy possessed by an evil spirit. A vision of Jesus’ glory is properly seen by what he sacrificed to rescue his world from evil. His glory is seen through the lens of a cross and the resurrection.
The title was about seeing Jesus in a new light. This isn’t easy because we are always projecting onto Jesus what we want to see. Namely, our own vision of glory and power. Mark is being very clear that to see a vision of Christ’s glory means putting this vision to death – a cross. Jesus’ glory comes through a cross and resurrection as he came to set the world free. This is where the transfigured Lord is sending the church. That is, if we are willing to listen to him.
The season of Lent is coming to a close and we know what that means, the cross is next on the way to Easter morning. As much as we want to jump ahead to the excitement of Easter, the cross must first be faced. The reading for this coming Sunday is setting up what Jesus will soon be facing and that is the cross. The dichotomy of death and life can’t be ignored.
Jesus is at the home of Lazarus whom he had restored to life from death. Immediately after this the entire Sanhedrin was called together to deal with the problem of Jesus going around doing miraculous things. If Jesus were allowed to go around showing signs of the Kingdom of Heaven the Romans will come and take away all they have worked to accomplish. Caiaphas declared that it would better for one man to die than for the nation they have labored to create perish.
Following the above reading, the chief priests were concerned about the crowds gathering around Lazarus’ house. They began to plan Jesus’ death and Lazarus’ death too. Hey, do you really want visual proof of life rising out of death to be seen! People would want this and reject the power structures at play. Better kill off life so that the old ways of death can be maintained. How foolish we are. How obvious our sin and how oblivious we are to recognize it.
At Lazarus’ house, Mary takes out fragrant oil to anoint Jesus for his burial. A humble act and loving act as she uses her hair to wipe the perfume over his feet. Judas Iscariot complains that this expensive perfume could be sold and the proceeds given to the poor. He doesn’t understand what is happening.
As long as Jesus is present, the Kingdom of Heaven is present. Jesus will soon be crucified and raised from the dead. Then he will ascend in glory. We wait for the day when he returns and the Kingdom is fully established. Until then, we contend with the powers that be. The powers that emphasize killing and death to keep control. The powers that leave us with a privileged few and poverty for the rest.
The season of Lent is drawing to its end and the cross is coming sharper into focus. This is a good time to be reminded of the powers that be and our complicity in their efforts that result in death and poverty. This is also a good time to remember the Kingdom of Heaven and how we can be a witness to its life giving ways.