December 16, 2009
It is always particularly interesting to me when the Gospel reading has Jesus issuing some command, and today’s very short Gospel lesson has a number of interesting features. In fact, it covers a somewhat famous event, but I think that there is some deeper meaning than that understanding with which I grew up. So, let’s take a minute and read over the passage from St. Mark VII:30-34:
And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the presbyters, and the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spoke that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about, and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. And when he had called the people [to him] with his disciples also, he said to them, Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
This follows directly from yesterday’s reading, where Christ heals the blind man by spitting on his eyes. This is one of those curious passages where Jesus strictly charges both the man he healed, and those who witnessed the healing, to say nothing about it. Of course, the scriptures tell us in many places that often, these commands were not heeded. But what is more curious, to me at least, is that He here goes immediately into teaching about His death and resurrection. Almost as if there were a causal connexion.
Which, of course, there is.
As in the parable about the man who owned a vineyard, and improved it, and let it out to tenants who beat and stoned his servants, and finally conspired to murder his heir and take his inheritance, here we see that the chief men of Israel (the presbyters, chief priests, and scribes) reject Jesus for the very reason that He came to those who were lowly and in need, and rejected the way of temporal power. He was not the sort of Messias they had been expecting; and it seems from the reading here today, His teaching on this matter was not what Peter–who, let us remember, was the first to confess Him as God–had been expecting either.
How often it is that I am like Peter. I know that He is God, but rather than bring that understanding the the fore and interpret everything that I see through that one truth, I more often than not ‘savorest the things that are of men.’ I was raised in a tradition where that is what prayer was: asking God to do things for you. Old habits die hard–especially when one is unwilling to crucify ones self upon one’s cross. And yet, that is precisely how today’s teaching ends, with Jesus telling all of us “Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John tells us that after He told the people that they could not be saved unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, many left Him because of this hard teaching. Times like this morning, I feel far more wretched than they, because I believe that at the Eucharist I partake of His very Body and His very Blood, but I imagine myself to be greater than my Master. “He was crucified for me” takes on a dangerous meaning in the minds of many; yes, He was crucified for each of us, to destroy Death in His flesh and make an end of the Law of Sin and Death…but He was not crucified so that we do not have to suffer our own cross, following Him and His example. Today’s Gospel clearly teaches that this worldly understanding that “Christ did it for me” is of the things of men–and of Satan. And if St. Peter, who was the first to confess Him, who saw Him transfigured upon Mt. Tabor, could fall into that trap, then so can any one of us.
May Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, illumine and enlighten all of us through the coming Feast of His Nativity according to the flesh. Amen.