The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
September 12, 2021 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 8:27-35
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Much of Mark’s gospel focuses on revealing the true identity of Jesus and the meaning of his mission. Some possible models were available during his life. Maybe he was a prophet, like those in the distant past. Maybe he was a reformer like John the Baptist. Historians note that in those times there were a few wonder-workers parading around who attracted followers with claims of personal or political greatness. Not unlike some of today’s politicians.
Or perhaps he would be like the great King David who would lead a rebellion against the political enslavement currently their lot. For decades the Jews living in Palestine at the time of Jesus survived under the thumb of the powerful Roman Empire. Rome ruled its conquered peoples with a combination of threat and savagery. The Romans had invented an especially violent form of capital punishment involving the public display of their adversaries, real or imaginary, hanging in public on wooden crosses. They were positioned in a way to discourage even the thought of political criticism or local rebellion.
So, when Jesus told his closest followers that he was destined to suffer greatly and be killed, they may not have been totally surprised, but possibly disappointed. It was certainly not a goal they would have chosen. They had hoped that the coming messianic age would initiate better times. Jesus had agreed with Peter’s claim that Jesus was God’s anointed one (the Christ) but Peter was not receptive to a mission of Jesus that involved suffering and eventual death. Such an ending seemed to him more like a defeat than a victory.
His disciples, especially Peter, were hoping for something that was more in line with the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. A time of full political and religious freedom and independence. Something decidedly better. Jesus had recently fed 4000. Peter might have imagined that Jesus’s next show of power would double that number.
While Jesus understood the mind of Peter, he had to correct Peter’s notion of goodness and the future. Jesus came to offer life in abundance but the path to that life involved not dominating others or impressing the crowds, but serving them. Not by getting more power and popularity, but by helping others more fully, especially those in need.
In countless ways over the years the true followers of Jesus understood this and would model humble service toward those in need. They would care for all God’s beloved creatures.
©David M. Thomas, PhD