Jesus doesn’t take any prisoners in his denunciation of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. He calls him Satan. That’s a pretty strong condemnation for what might seem a small thing.
Jesus has openly declared to his disciples that he’s going to be crucified and resurrected. Peter has a kind of “parking-lot-conversation” with Jesus. You know what that means. It’s the conversation that happens outside of the regular church meeting where people say what’s really on their minds. For whatever reason, Peter doesn’t want to “rebuke” Jesus in front of everybody so he pulls him aside. Maybe he even lowers his voice and keeps one hand on Jesus’ arm or back, trying to tell him that talk of crucifixion, even with resurrection, is not a marketable message.
But Jesus, who rarely minces words, tells him that it is all or nothing. If you want to follow me, he says, then take up your cross. There is no middle way here. If you want to save your life then you must lose it.
Mark’s Gospel is told against the backdrop of the Roman Empire, an empire that fostered inequality and corruption and by the time Mark’s gospel came into being, had destroyed Jerusalem and burned its massive Temple to the ground–scattering a whole population, decimating a religious tradition (Judaism) and slaughtering thousands indiscriminately.
You could not, as Mark’s Gospel outlines, work on behalf of the poor and outcast and not be considered an enemy of Rome. It’s hard for us to imagine a world where your inclination to help others would be suspect and, that to be a member of a religion might mark you for a horrible death. Mark’s world was a world of secret meetings and hushed voices and fear.
When he takes Jesus aside, Peter is embodying that fear. We might think it reckless and, if we cared about Jesus, we might, like Peter, pull him aside and whisper, “Shhhh.” That’s the kind of thing Jesus did in declaring his death.
So how’s that going for you, O twenty-first century Christian? Have you denied yourself? Fought for anything that might get you into trouble? Have you put your life on the line for the Gospel?
What have you done to advance the idea of “A Just World for All?” How has your church led the way? Have we been willing to give up our lives to save them?