“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“Jesus 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.”
“There he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders. 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 and said, ‘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 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.'” (Mark 8:29-38)
The shadow of the cross casts itself over the entire gospel. From beginning to end, the gospel of Mark is the good news of Jesus the Crucified One. This passage is found at the midpoint of the gospel. Peter answers the crucial question of Jesus and confesses Jesus to be the Messiah. Then Jesus gives the first of three explicit predictions of his own suffering, leading up to the passion account. Jesus sets his face toward the cross, as the goal and destiny of his three year mission.
Peter was unable to accept the idea that Jesus the Messiah would have to suffer, and the idea of being a disciple of a suffering Messiah did not appeal to him. So Peter took Jesus aside and began to chastise him, presumably trying to get Jesus to conform to the popularly accepted notion of a Messiah who would enjoy worldly triumph. Then Jesus rebuked Peter, accusing him of taking the role of Satan, the one who was trying to turn Jesus away from God’s will and saving purpose.
After the prediction of his passion, Jesus describes the life of a disciple. He asks his followers not only to believe in his message, but to attach themselves to him and walk in his path. Those who wish to follow Jesus must do three things. First, disciples must deny themselves, not be preoccupied with their own interests. Second, disciples must take up their own cross, patiently bearing trials and being prepared to sacrifice. Third, disciples must follow Jesus, accepting his way of life and imitating his generous self-giving.
When these three aspects of discipleship are understood together, it is clear that Jesus is asking his followers to make a radical choice. Mark’s concern as the gospel writer is for the persecuted Christians of his own day. These sayings of Jesus remind them that following a rejected and crucified Messiah implies that they too will have to endure suffering. The way of the cross is not the way of the world. A true disciple must not be ashamed of Jesus’ way of humiliation, suffering, and death, but must be prepared to risk all for Jesus and his gospel. Disciples of Jesus are to be cross-bearers. The cross is not only something Jesus carried for them, but also something they carry for him and others. In some areas of our world today disciples still experience harassment, hostility, imprisonment, and even martyrdom. Even in tolerant countries, followers of Jesus often experience misunderstanding and antagonism. But all disciples are called to carry the cross, whether it be in the form of persecution or the self-giving love of anguish and grief.
Consider the three aspects of following Jesus that were mentioned in Mark. Which one of the three is the most challenging to you?
Crucified Jesus, you call me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow you. Help me to accept a life of self-sacrifice and imitate your generosity. May I never be ashamed of your cross.