Since the beginning of the Advent Season last December we have been journeying in Liturgical Year B which allows us to hear the proclaimed scripture from the perspective of a different evangelist. For this past liturgical year we have been hearing the readings from “Cycle B” of the liturgical readings. Cycle B allows us to hear and be inspired by the Gospel of Mark which is the shortest of the four gospels and is accepted as being the first gospel written. Mark was writing to a Christian community that was under great persecution from the Romans. Within his Gospel, therefore, Mark was trying to explain who Jesus is, and what it means to be His follower within the context of life and death. By doing this, Mark gives hope, encouragement and establishes a deeper faith in a counter-cultural man, named Jesus within the Christian community.
The Gospel this weekend has three different, but very important sections to it. It begins with the famous question “Who do you say I am?” expressed by Jesus to his disciples with Peters remarkable faith proclamation “You are the Christ.” Then the Gospel proceeds into the first passion prediction and Peter’s denial of it. Finally, Jesus encourages his disciples to “pick up your cross and follow me.” All three sections are equally important and do not make entire sense without each other.
Within the full picture of the Gospel of Mark the passage we hear proclaimed today a critical point in the Gospel. It is taken from the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It is a moment within the gospel where Jesus begins to do fewer miracles, less public teachings and more personal and private teachings with his disciples - cultivating within them what it truly means to be a disciple. Additionally, within this passage, Jesus begins to present himself not as a nationalistic leader (which the Jewish people had predicted the Messiah would be) but rather as a “Suffering Servant” who has come to participate in our earthly struggle.
When Jesus had preached about the suffering and death that he must endure, the disciples were appalled. Never in their minds did they think that the long awaited Messiah would be rejected and put to death. So Peter pulls Jesus to the side and begins to oppose him because it goes against his ideologies. But Jesus responds to Peter by saying “You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.” To further his point, Jesus turns to the Twelve disciples and says, “Whoever wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “
To the people of that era, being crucified was the worst way to die - Crucifixion was the most cruel forms of punishment. Criminals who had committed the worst of crimes suffered this most horrific and excruciating punishment. Interestingly, Jesus is calling the disciples (and calls us) to pick up our cross and follow him. The cross was one of the most unattractive things - it was a sign of death and hopelessness . However, Jesus transformed the unattractive into the attractive. By dying on the cross and resurrecting, he renewed the cross to a symbol of love, hope, and victory. It was not until Jesus was on the cross, however, that the disciples (and (us) saw the fullness of the title “Suffering Servant” and how, through his death, we are led to eternal life.
Like Peter, we develop our own plans and ideologies of our life and how it will unfold. We choose the attractive, the nicest, and what seems to be the road of least resistance. However, Jesus calls us to follow him, even if it is unattractive to us. Like with the cross, Jesus will transform the most unattractive events and aspects of our lives into the most beautiful and fullest. What appears as death and a dead end can actually lead us to eternal life.
To the particular persecuted Christian communityto whom Mark was writing, this passage from the gospelwould have given them encouragement and a sense of purpose for their suffering. Jesus, in this passage, reveals that he has come to be a suffering servant. In his revelation, however, Jesus calls us to follow him on the path of being and becoming a suffering servant. In his invitation for us to pick up the cross and follow him, he does not promise that it will be easy, but rather that it will have eternal rewards. May we come to follow Christ, imitating his example of love and service. May we come to follow Christ regardless if it leads us to the unattractive but trusting with faith and hope in God that it will become the most attractive and wonderful thing. Christ is calling us to have faith as we journey with him; may we have the faith to believe that he will transform the unattractive into the attractive.
Have a good Sunday!
*This post also was publish on Christ The King Parish Bulletin