We heard the first prediction last Sunday in Mark 8; today we heard the second prediction in Mark 9; then the third and final prediction takes place in Mark 10. (8:27-33; 9:30-37; 10:32-34) In each instance, Jesus of Nazareth explains that he will be rejected by the religious authorities, undergo great suffering and death, and then will rise again. Why does Jesus keep bringing this up?
One possible reason could be to ensure the disciples clearly understand Jesus’ identity and purpose. When Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is, they respond: some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others one of the prophets. They knew their leader was the messiah.
Yet not the messiah figure so many had imagined-- which was more of a warrior political figure. Jesus of Nazareth was a martyr messiah, willing to die for the sake of God’s dream.* Ready to stand against the power and privilege of the empire, against the narrow vision of religious authorities; all for the sake of the marginalized and oppressed, for the sake of God’s extravagant and radical love. Never has there been a messiah figure quite like this one, before or since.
Another possible reason for these predictions may have been to help the disciples better understand the meaning of discipleship. It is worth noting that in each instance where Jesus predicts his future, the disciples get kind of weird. They get critical, puffed up, and are jockeying for positions.
In other words, the disciples miss the mark. Their beloved is telling them something essential about who they are and why they have started this movement. We all know what it is like when a loved one does not hear something important. We are trying to tell them about who we are, and they get uncomfortable, afraid, uncertain, anxious, hoping to talk about almost anything else. Fear will do that to us.
And as fun as it might be to point at the disciples’ foolishness and laugh, let’s be real. We are cut from the same cloth, carrying our own set of insecurities, misconstrued beliefs, and self-interests.
None of this seems to surprise Jesus of Nazareth. He seems to have a deep understanding of how humans are wired. So in spite of the disciples’ awkward responses, Jesus maintains the mission, and uses each misstep as an opportunity for redirection. Naming precisely what all disciples, then and now, will need to face within.
Following the first prediction, Peter criticizes Jesus’ behavior. Ever the teacher, Jesus has a moment of directness with a particularly trying student, and says, Get behind me, Satan!
(An expression that teachers everywhere will surely want to adopt for their own use in the classroom.)
He then proceeds to use this as a teaching moment where he essentially tells them: You need to cast aside your limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are the thoughts and opinions which we believe to be absolute truths.* * They tend to have a negative impact on our professional and personal lives, by preventing us from moving forward.**
One of Peter’s limiting beliefs was that Jesus’ strength as the Messiah could prevent him from experiencing any real harm, let alone suffering and death. It was unfathomable that Peter and his fellow disciples might have to return to their former lives or continue the movement without their teacher. This limiting belief prevented Peter from hearing an important truth. Nonetheless, Jesus takes this opportunity to reinforce what it means to be a disciple. If we want to embody the core values of this movement, we must be ready to deny ourselves and follow the way of love. Letting go of everything we hold dear: our possessions, relationships, and yes, even our limiting beliefs; those ideas and opinions which prevent us from moving forward and growing as disciples.
We see Jesus carry this theme forward, into the conversations that follow his second and third predictions, where James and John begin by bickering over who is the greatest, and later wonder if they might position themselves at the right and left hand of Jesus. Their teacher redirects them, expanding what it means to be great.In this movement, to be great, is to abandon the pursuit of our own self-centered interests.To instead harness any power and privilege we may have to transform this world from the nightmare it is to so many, into the dream God created it to be.***
Sitting down with the twelve, Jesus,
“...said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” (9:36-37).
The reason Jesus uses the child as an example is because within their culture, children held the lowest possible social status. In asking the disciples to welcome children and be their servant, Jesus was essentially saying, Welcome all who have been pushed to the edges, those who are invisible and are suffering. Be their servants and friends. These are the people we are here to walk beside as we strive for justice and mercy. And not so we might take on some dysfunctional savior like role for the marginalized. Jesus wants us to use any privilege we may have to amplify the voices of the marginalized and to proclaim God’s dream for this world. Let it be a force of love that will shake this world upside down, and right side up again.*** In order for us to live this kind of radical love, we need to pay attention to our tendency of becoming preoccupied with our own selves, and instead look at the bigger picture of our families, communities, and world.
These predictions remind us of Jesus’ identity and purpose, and they teach us about living as disciples. Like Peter, James, and John, we are going to muck up and go sideways sometimes.
We get caught up in our fear and anxiety.
We get stuck by our limiting beliefs.
We become preoccupied with ourselves, and pay less attention to our neighbors.
We stand in safety with the empire, enjoying the plunder provided to us by our social status amongst the powerful and privileged.
We deny God’s dream, and hide under rocks.
To grapple with any of these challenges is to embrace the fullness of our humanity.
And I am pretty sure that it gives God great joy every time we try our best to live fully and faithfully.
To choose to walk in love, with God’s help.
To choose to persevere in resisting evil, with God’s help.
To choose to pursue justice and mercy, with God’s help.
To choose to respect the dignity of every human being and creation herself, with God’s help.
This week, I want to invite each of us to reflect on our experience as disciples.
Where do we find ourselves getting stuck the most?
Is it our Fear? Anxiety? Limiting Beliefs?
Our own self interests? Our power and privilege?
How might Christ be inviting us to grow and evolve as disciples?
What support and resources do we need to take those next steps?
* Richard A. Horsley, commentary on Mark (pg 1791-2) in the Fully Revised Fourth
Edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible.
***Adapting a phrase coined by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
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