When the heart does not process what the lips proclaim – Thursday, 6th Week in ordinary time – Mark 8:27-33
Some of us have a twisted dependence on the opinions of others. Jesus was certainly not dependent on the views of others. They had already aired their views previously. In Mark chapter 3 they thought him to be working for Beelzebub, the prince of demons. In Chapter four they ask, “who is this?” In chapter six his disciples think him to be a ghost. The Syrophoenician woman called him Lord, some called him master, Herod thought he was John the Baptist raised again; the list of opinions is endless. Now when Jesus asks his disciples who do people say that I am, he is not seeking an opinion poll. His intention was to clarify the misconceptions that they had of him.
In the previous text we know that Jesus was in Bethsaida (8:22-26), a town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Our Gospel of today finds him in Caesarea Philippi, about forty kilometers further north, at the foot of Mount Hermon. It is here that he popped the question because what he really wanted to do was to deepen his relationship with them. Jesus had to ask them, as individuals, what they believed; who they thought he was.
While the disciples echo popular opinion about who people think Jesus is, and that opinion ranges from one spectrum to the other, it is Peter who declares Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christos, the anointed one.
Ironically in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus does not applaud this bold and brave answer of Peter rather they are all ‘sternly ordered not to tell anyone about it.” Mark remembers this detail as do we when someone asks us to keep something a secret (that we do not do is another matter). But Mark remembers this stern order because for the Gospel of Mark it is the centurion, a Gentile, who in Mark 15:39 will declare the crucified Christ to be, “truly, the son of God.”
But for now, Jesus has to clarify even what Peter has professed and proclaimed. Ironically, his lips have proclaimed what his heart has not processed. We know this because in a few verses from now Jesus will rebuke Peter. But for now, Jesus has to clarify what Messiah means.
At the time of Jesus, the word Messiah was used loosely for any one seen as some sort of saviour, as we do in our lingo today. Jesus was no Harry Houdini or a King David, he was a suffering Christ who had come to be rejected and be killed but one who would conquer death and rise again. This was the whole package and Jesus proclaimed this mystery of the ‘Passion Death and Resurrection’ twice more in this very Gospel; each time with a growing lack of understanding on the part of the twelve.
So, Jesus “taught them! (8:31). He teaches them not to fall for popular opinion or be swayed by it but to discern and learn at his feet. Let this be a learning for us too. We are so often swayed by the popular opinion of others, or worse, we are driven by the opinion of others. To thine own self be true!
It is interesting to see the dynamics that play out when people who hail you one moment disagree with you when you take a stand on an issue. Peter was Jesus’ de facto prime Minister; a man who was given the keys of the kingdom with power to bind and loose. Yet this ‘prime minister’ saw his seat of power shaken the minute Jesus taught the true meaning of the word Messiah. Peter’s heart sank as he saw his chair of authority take the shape of a cross of suffering. He instinctively rebukes Jesus and rebukes his own would be suffering!
That’s a strong word to use, “he rebuked Jesus.” Let me break down that word for you in Greek; it translates as “epitimao” or in slang, “shut up.” Yes, that’s what we can end up saying to God when he unfolds his plans for us! While Peter showed some sensitivity in taking Jesus aside before rebuking him, Jesus did more than rap Peter on his knuckles in private. He publicly, reprimands him with a similar “you shut up.”
This text when broken down sounds like a very difficult conversation to read or to hear. This is not the gentle Jesus meek and mild; sometimes he is not mild but riled! Here is what Peter is told, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The ability to be swing from a congratulations from the Lord to becoming an instrument of satan can take place in a flash. Peter goes from being the holder of the keys of the kingdom to being called Satan. Keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the opinion of others. That’s the challenge of the spiritual life.
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