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?’ 28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
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.’
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? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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.’
Translation: And Jesus and his disciples went out into the villages of Caeserea of Philip, and, on the way, he was asking his disciples, saying to them, "Who do they say the son of man to be?" But they said to him, saying, "John the baptist, and others, Elijah, but others, one of the prophets." And he was asking them, "But you, who do you say me to be?" Peter answered. He says to him, "You are the Christ." And he rebuked them that they might say nothing concerning him.
And he began to teach them that it is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer greatly and to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise. And he said the word boldly. And Peter took him (and) began to rebuke him. But being turned and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan, for you are not thinking the things of God but the things of people."
And he called the crowd together with his disciples (and) he said to them, "Whoever wishes to follow after me, let that one deny themselves, and take their cross and follow me. For whoever might wish to save their life will lose it, but whoever will lose their life because of me and the good news will save it. For what does it profit a person to gain the whole cosmos and to lose that one's life? For what might a person give in exchange for that one's life? For whoever might be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinning generation, and the son of man to be ashamed of that one when he might come in the glory of his father with the holy angels."
Background and situation: The middle-section of Mark's gospel (8:22-10:52), which we have just entered, begins with the healing of a blind man and closes with the healing of a blind man. The first blind man is unnamed, the second is named Bartimaeus, or "son of Timaeus." (Timaeus, incidentally, was one of the most popular and frequently read works of Plato in the first century.)
The section begins and ends with blind people who see. (This technique is called "inclusio." It was a way for people to discern sections of a book before the age of chapters.)
In between these two blind men who see, Jesus tries to get the disciples to see, but is singularly unsuccessful. (He could heal the sick, but not the willfully ignorant.) What does he want them to see? What "way" are they to "follow"?
In chapters 8-10, Jesus will make three passion statements, the first of which is in our lection this week. In each case, Jesus will proclaim the way of the cross, and, each time, the disciples will be shown to be clueless.
Our lection includes the phrase "on the way," a theme which runs through the whole book of Mark, and especially through this section (8:22-10:52). "On the way" the disciples had discussed their own greatness (9:33-34). Jesus continued "on the way" (10:17). Jesus and the disciples are "on the way" to Jerusalem (10:52). The section closes with the healing of Bartimaeus, who "followed him on the way" (10:52).
Incidentally, throughout the gospel according to Mark, though explicitly called to do so (1:17), the disciples are never actually said to "follow." Yet a few others, like Bartimaeus and the anonymous young man in the Garden of Gethsemene (14;51), do follow.
Who is Jesus?: The first passion statement occurs as Jesus and the disciples are traveling throughout the villages near "Caeserea of Philip," or, more commonly, "Caeserea Philippi."
Caeserea Philippi was built on the site of an earlier city named Paneas, after the Greek god Pan. Philip's father, Herod the Great, had built a temple there in honor of Caesar Augustus. (Herod, suck-up extraordinaire, was always trying to out-do himself in honoring his patron, Caesar.) It is fitting that Jesus' teaching "on the way" should begin at a pagan site associated with the Emperor cult of Rome.
As they are journeying "on the way," Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is. Their response echoes the story in 6:14-16 when Herod heard of the success of the mission of the disciples. Herod says that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. Others said it was Elijah. Still others said "one of the prophets of old." Here, in chapter 8, we get the same response: John the Baptist, Elijah, or "one of the prophets."
Jesus then asks for the disciples' own response: "But you, who do you say me to be?" Peter answers, "You are the Christ." So far, so good--or so one would think. Yet, in response, Jesus "rebuked" all the disciples and told them to say nothing about him. Why?
First passion statement in Mark's gospel: Jesus follows with the first passion statement: "And he began to teach them that it is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer greatly and to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise."
First, he "began to teach"--this is the beginning of the disciples' instruction. Jesus has been teaching them all along, of course, but this phrase marks a new beginning. Second, "it is necessary," which translates the Greek dei. (NRSV has "must".) The passion of Jesus must take place.
Third, Jesus does not use the title Peter had spoken for himself. Instead of "Christ," he refers to himself as "the son of man." This intentionally recalls the "son of man" figure in Daniel 7:
I saw in the night visions: behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdoms, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. (Daniel 7: 13-14)
Fourth, the son of man will "suffer greatly and be rejected" by a conspiracy of "the elders, chief priests, and scribes." (Note that, though the pharisees have been opposed to Jesus to this point, they are not included in this list of Jesus' opponents.)
We had already known of the opposition of the scribes. To the scribes are now added the chief priests and elders. These groups made up the Temple hierarchy. According to Jesus, the entire Jerusalem establishment is united against him.
Fifth, Jesus also says the son of man will "rise," which, this side of Easter, partially mitigates what has preceded it, but this statement of resurrection also seems rather terse and tacked-on.
Mark notes that Jesus "said the word boldly"--parresia ton logon elalei. (NRSV: "...he said all this quite openly...") I'm of the opinion that ton logon--"the word"--is such an important concept all through the New Testament that it should be translated as such when it appears. In other words, "all this" doesn't quite cut it--he "was speaking the word boldly"!
Jesus has "rebuked" the disciples not to say anything about his being the Christ, but says "boldly" that the son of man is to suffer. Why?
The word "Christ" translates the Hebrew "messiah." The expectation of a "messiah" in first century Israel was that the messiah would sweep in and bring about the promised Golden Age. The messiah would be like King David, and would destroy Israel's enemies and bring peace and prosperity to the land. Jesus disavows this kind of royal triumphalism and instead asserts the "suffering son of man" instead.
Royal triumphalism, a.k.a. "the things of people": Peter then "took him" and "rebuked" Jesus, but Jesus "turned" and "rebuked" him back. This is serious. The word for "rebuked" is epitimao, which is also used when Jesus silences demons.
To take it step by step, Peter said Jesus is Christ, which Jesus "rebukes." Jesus says the "son of man must suffer," which Peter "rebukes." Jesus "rebukes" his "rebuke" and calls Peter "Satan" to boot: "Get behind me, Satan--hupage opiso mou, satana--for you are not thinking the things of God but the things of people."
The language is stark. One may be on the side of royal triumphalism, which is "the things of people," or one may be on the side of the "suffering son of man," which is "the things of God." There is no middle ground.
Jesus then calls "the crowd together with the disciples." This instruction is for everyone. It is a call to deny one's self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
We have tended to psychologize this and make it over into something more in tune with 21st century life, such as interpreting "taking up one's cross" to mean putting up with one's circumstances in life. When someone has a life difficulty, for example, sometimes it is said that this difficulty is the person's "cross to bear."
In the context of the times, however, Jesus' words would have been unmistakably clear: If you follow Jesus, you can expect to be crucified. When first century readers saw the phrase "take up your cross," they knew it to be a term that meant a condemned person carrying their cross for their own crucifixion. (Cross Rome, and Rome crosses you.)
Ched Myers writes:
Mark...is introducing the central paradox of the Gospel. The threat to punish by death is the bottom line of the power of the state; fear of this threat keeps the dominant order intact. By resisting this fear and pursuing kingdom practice even at the cost of death, the disciple contributes to shattering the powers' reign of death in history. To concede the state's sovereignty in death is to refuse its authority in life.
As Jesus further expounds on his teaching, he does not use the language of courts or politics, as we might expect. Rather, he uses the language of economics: "For what does it profit--ophelei--a person to gain--kerdaino--the whole cosmos and to lose--zemiothenai--that one's life? For what might a person give in exchange--antallagma--for that one's life?"
All the Greek words highlighted in that sentence are terms of the marketplace. Not following Jesus is a bad investment.
The lection closes with Jesus asserting something that would have been understood quite readily in the honor/shame culture of first century Israel: "For whoever might be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinning generation, and the son of man to be ashamed of that one..."
To be ashamed of Jesus "and (his) words"--that is, his teaching--will bring shame in return. Not only that, but God is on the side of Jesus, who will come "in the glory of his father with the holy angels."
Image: White Crucifixion, Marc Chagall