March 8, 2018
Mark 8:22 – 9:1
Back to Bethsaida – one of the feeding places – desert land, east of the Jordan River, north of Sea of Galilee. I still don’t know if it actually happened this way, but I know that this story is true, as folks like Tom King or Marcus Borg taught us earlier this century.
Jesus heals a blind man. It takes two treatments, saliva and laying on of hands, then laying on of hands, first giving him people looking like tree trunks, then focus. Then Jesus sends him off to shut up, not even go to town. Does it remind you of the details of the last healing, of a deaf and dumb man, which also used ‘Jesus spit’?
Head north, now, to Caesarea Philippi – up to the edge of Lebanon and Syria, which we know as the Golan Heights. According to Mark’s itinerary, this is the furthest reach northeast for Jesus, to a city named after the Roman ruler. The town is named after the Roman ruler, and a Greek city. Here, closest to the likely community in which this gospel took shape, he asks ‘who do people say that I am’?
The disciples give him John the Baptist, and then the ones whom people said that the Baptizer himself might be like: Elijah, prophets. You can only understand Jesus in terms of these Jewish and Palestinian figures, even out in Gentile imperial context, decades on.
Who do you say that I am? Jesus asks his disciples – Mark’s Jesus is asking us. Peter answers: the Messiah. There’s the trump category in the Jewish symbol set – and Peter said it. Jesus doesn’t say yes or no, just tells them not to tell anyone about him. I still think he says shut up because they’re not ready to tell it right – the story is not complete, and they don’t even get the first part straight. Do we?
Jesus starts to predict his passion and suffering, that rounds out the story from this initial rock star tour. He says it openly – to the disciples. He will say it 2 more times, about as far into chapter 9 and chapter 10. Now, as we head into the second half of Mark’s gospel, the secret (which we all knew, in their future, before we began reading) can be spelled out as a prediction - to ‘insiders’.
Peter tries to put Jesus back on message – but Jesus humiliates Peter in front of the rest, calling him Satan (or at least addressing the spirit who threatened to possess the big lead disciple). Peter is taking the wrong side, measuring the wrong way, according to one world, with which the world of ‘God’s imperial reign’ is colliding.
It’s not all about ‘the person and work of Jesus’, Christology. It’s also about discipleship in response to Jesus, and to the colliding worlds. Jesus’ Passion is the model or motive for them (and us) taking up a cross, losing their (or our) life. Even if Jesus did have the whole movie between his ears already, if he had said these words, what would they have meant at the time? To Mark’s community, and to ours, the diction resonates with plenty or levels and echoes.
Then Jesus – or the church, or Mark – challenges the disciples, and us, to a choice with short term costs and invisible deferred payoffs…
The day’s reading ends with the assurance that it’ll all end before some there die – clearly proven wrong long since – no? Then what’s it mean?
They came to Bethsaida.
Some people brought a blind man to him
and begged him to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand
and led him out of the village;
and when he had put saliva on his eyes
and laid his hands on him,
he asked him,
‘Can you see anything?’
And the man looked up and said,
‘I can see people,
but they look like trees, walking.’
Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again;
and he looked intently and his sight was restored,
and he saw everything clearly.
Then he sent him away to his home,
‘Do not even go into the village.’
Jesus went on with his disciples
to the villages of Caesarea Philippi;
and on the way he asked his disciples,
‘Who do people say that I am?’
And they answered him,
‘John the Baptist;
and others, Elijah;
and still others,
one of the prophets.’
He asked them,
‘But who do you say that I am?’
Peter answered him,
‘You are the Messiah.’
And he sternly ordered them
not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them
that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,
and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed,
and after three days rise again.
He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside
and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples,
he rebuked Peter
‘Get behind me, Satan!
For you are setting your mind
not on divine things
but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples,
and said to them,
‘If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake,
and for the sake of the gospel,
will save it.
For what will it profit them
to gain the whole world
and forfeit their life?
Indeed, what can they give
in return for their life?
Those who are ashamed of me
and of my words
in this adulterous and sinful generation,
of them the Son of Man
will also be ashamed
when he comes in the glory of his Father
with the holy angels.’
And he said to them,
‘Truly I tell you,
there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see that the kingdom of God
has come with power.’