Once there was a popular political figure who, when it seemed like his reputation with the public was at an amazingly high level, gathered his closest group of associates in order to gauge their thoughts on his future. He asked them, "What is the public's opinion of my abilities?" These people he trusted responded by naming other successful political figures from history to whom he was often being compared in the press. This was a good sign. It meant the hopes and trust of the public in him were high. So, looking at the faces of his deeply trusted coworkers and friends, he asked the question he'd been waiting to ask them ever since they entered the political arena together: "And what about you? What do you think of my chances?"
The most powerful among them immediately spoke up and said, "You are destined to be the next leader of this nation."
"Let's do it," the esteemed leader responded decisively. "But keep it to yourselves for now. I already have our strategy planned: I will do things that will cause everyone currently in power to reject me. I will be humiliated in the worst ways possible. I will challenge their power so fundamentally that charges of treason likely await me–and the death penalty would be sure to follow."
The one who–just minutes before–had affirmed the leader's destiny now cried out, "You're out of your mind!"
"You, get out of my way, along with your accusations," the leader responded sharply. "You're only seeing things for your own very limited perspective."
Then he said loudly to his associates and anyone else within earshot,
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?**^
I hope this story rings some bells for you. Perhaps you are able to recognize it as an adaptation of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples (see Mark 8:27-38), though–if you're like me–you may have heard those passages for years without ever having been able to see the political (kingdom) aspects of what Jesus said and did.
When we read Peter saying, "You are the Messiah," we often interpret that as Peter recognizing Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, but that isn't what Peter meant by it, nor how the other disciples would have understood what he said. He was saying, in effect, "You are the one, anointed by God and foretold by the prophets, who will be able to lead us out of this mess."
The disciples were beginning to understand a small part of what Jesus' work was about, then seizing on that degree of understanding, Jesus tells them what was about to happen: that he would suffer, die, and rise again. To his disciples, this was inconceivable if he really was who Peter had just described. As NT Wright points out, this is like a captain of a football team telling his team that in the second half of the game he intended to let the opposing team score ten consecutive touchdowns. "Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose alongside him."^
None of the spiritual meaning we usually attach today to "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" existed for Peter and the other disciples that night. Those were dangerous, incomprehensible, impossible to swallow words. Now that they recognized Jesus as the Messiah, every idea they had of what the Messiah should do was about to be shattered. And he was asking them to take the same path.
Does he ask anything different of you?
A Prayer for the Day:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer **Mark 8:34-37, The Message ^Based upon comments from NT Wright's commentary, Mark for Everyone.
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]