Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Walking with Purpose...



THE LESSON we study for the Second Sunday in Lent is heard from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. This reading in Mark reveals our Lord’s conversation with his apostles about his identity, then turns to the general population to identify followers as participants in his church and ministry…

 And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he charged them to tell no one about him.
 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
                                                                                          (Mark 8:27-38)

From Few to All…
The query Jesus laid before Peter and the apostles places our reading focus upon the Jewish population's responses to his being in our midst. According to Mark, Peter was the apostolic spokesperson. He told of the various reactions of Jewish leaders and the general populace. Jesus then narrowed the questioning to just the disciples. He asked Peter about who they believed him to be.
 According to this earliest witness, Peter rightly identified Jesus for he answered that they believed him to be the Christ. Nonetheless, as likely told to the early church by Peter himself, the text does not reveal that any of the apostles realized the full meaning of the statement. They thought he was to only assume the earthly throne of Israel. The inability of the apostles to comprehend his true Messianic identity becomes thematic for the gospel of Mark, because the same question is asked three times during the apostolic trek to the cross. Jesus repeatedly tested their ability to “get it”, and the writer of the gospel thus emphasized their ignorance. Their inability to comprehend that God had a different meaning for the Messianic role than the Jewish leadership, affected both the followers and opponents of Jesus’ mission.
  Interesting as well, Mark does not use the Hebrews Messianic title to describe Jesus here, but instead used the Greek term of “Christ”… though both were indications that Jesus was the “anointed” or "appointed" one. My claim is thus that Mark addressed his writing specific to unbelievers in the Jewish diaspora across the Roman Empire… especially any Greek newbies. Using the term therefore, Mark focused his readers universally by relating that Peter said that Jesus is the “Christ”.
 Jesus was described by Mark as more than merely a human sent by God, as historically believed in error by many persons both then and now. Mark argues that Jesus indeed is the Son of Man, and the Christ of God. For further discussion on this matter, you can delve into a previous material covered on this same passage as written by the church of Matthew, You can find this in our study of the gospel for Pentecost 11, Year A in the lectionary cycle.

 



For our Bible study today, however, I would bring us to examine the latter verses of this text. At the time, Jesus instructed the disciples not to reveal his Messianic identity, for they did not yet fully understand the all-encompassing mission that his title portrayed. His purpose was far greater than the erroneous perceptions his followers and adversaries held. They thought that Jesus would challenge local rulers and attempt to take the seat of power in Israel.

Follow Only Me!
In the reading, we find that Mark related that the audience then shifted. The scene portrays that Jesus turned and began to speak to others who had gathered. He thus included the poor, the rich, Pharisee, Sadducee and Zealot and others. Here the text is telling. Mark thus shifted the scene to universally reveal the message they needed to hear. By doing so, Mark taught his own reading audience and thus teaches us as well. We are taught what following Jesus really means for us. All witnesses are taught that as disciples... we are to be in the world, but not of it.
 Jesus’ original audience outside of Caesarea Phillippi, and those who later came out of the Markan church witness in Alexandria, Egypt, consequently received a call to deny themselves. They were to set aside their own agenda and personal ambitions. Those hearing Jesus and reading this text were asked, even though not completely understanding, to cast away their finite human control. Those within hearing were asked to follow in faith.
 You see, disciples were to take up the challenge of moving forward as Christians. They were called... and indeed some followed. By following they would eventually learn greater things by the power of the Holy Spirit and give witness while working in a hostile and challenging world.
 In answer to this, we of the modern church need to particularly note the passage that also gives us firm guidance. We need take it for a Lenten warning as we move toward the cross of Easter. We are called... and are not, as the Body of Christ in today’s world, to allow ourselves to be ashamed (In Greek - ἐπαισχυνθῇ - hepaischynthe) of witnessing about Jesus Christ, our Lord.
 Surely, as demonstrated by his death and Resurrection, Jesus was and is yet living and holy. He was thus defined as “set apart” by God. Our Lord was and still is truly human... and as God is also divine. Jesus thus possessed, and still yet displays... a uniqueness that is far removed from any of the world’s would-be religious usurpers. There are many false leaders who merely attempt to glean the church and civil populations like demons that tear at the fabric of our Lord’s pure garment. These assail and mislead the church by prostituting the message of Jesus Christ. It is these heretical ones who soft-pedal Jesus’ divinity today and slant his unchanging Word in order to endorse their own social  agendas. Therefore, these apostates fail to reveal him as Lord of lords… the crucified and Risen Son of God. These are those persons of whom Jesus will be ashamed.
 Remember, blessed ones who truly hear his Word, that together we are called to reveal that Jesus is the solely the Son of Man and the Son of God. We rightly claim that salvation is accomplished only through him. This was the message of Mark to the early church.
This is the good news that should be proclaimed by the church even now. We are called to do this throughout the Lenten season. May this gospel message endure forever by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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