Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church
Koodosh Eatho - Sermon / Homily on Mark 8:27-38
Remember the Cross
by Jim Fitzgerald
Text: Mark 8:31-38
Listening to the Text
This passage marks a turning point in the Gospel of Mark. Of the sixteen
chapters in Mark's Gospel, eight focus on Jesus' Galilean ministry, and eight
focus on His march toward the Cross. The passage at hand follows immediately
after Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Remember to
listen to Mark, however, for in Mark's Gospel the confession of Peter gets much
less attention than in Matthew. In Mark, the focus, the turning point in the
Gospel is Jesus' first prediction of His death. This is Jesus' first of three
explicit predictions of His Passion (the other two being 9:31 and 10:33-34). In
each instance He makes it clear that He will suffer, be killed, and rise again
after three days. Furthermore, in this passage He clearly states that any who
would be His disciples must prepare to be cross-bearers.
From this moment on, things will never be the same. Up to this point, we have
primarily been challenged to interpret the remarkable power Jesus has displayed.
How does He do what He does? What is the source of His power? To whom is it
extended, and why? But from this moment on, with no diminution of His power, we
are forced to wrestle with His prediction that suffering and death are on His
horizon. This one who has all the power of God evident in His life will suffer
and die. How can that be?
Because we know the end of the story, we tend to jump ahead to the truth that He
did, in fact, rise again. To do that is to weaken the impact of the struggle
Jesus' words pose for us. To hear Mark accurately we have to allow the tension
to settle in; we have to let the discomfort of Jesus' words - before the
resurrection - confront us.
As is frequently the case in the Gospels, Peter gives voice to what others were
likely thinking as well. The sharp words Mark uses to describe the encounter
between Peter and Jesus make the volatility of this issue clear. Upon hearing
Jesus' prediction of His Passion, Peter "rebukes" Jesus, who in turn "rebukes"
Peter, "Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the
things of men" (v. 33). This is truly a cautionary tale for all disciples of
Engaging the Text
This passage addresses a need of crucial importance to the Church. How do we
identify what are "divine things" and what are "human things"? How do we discern
the ways of God in our world? Many of us, like Peter, make assumptions that are
simply wrong. We have preconceived ideas about God and the ways He will work in
the world. Like Peter, we sometimes resist letting go of those ideas about God,
even in light of the Word God has spoken and the life Christ has lived. We seem
to embrace more readily the Cross as historic event than we embrace "bearing the
cross" as a metaphor for the Christian life. The truth is that the way of the
Cross is a "divine thing." How do we explain that in relevant terms, and live
that out in meaningful ways?
God's answer is clear: the Cross is not just an unfortunate event which, if
things had just taken a different turn, could have been completely avoided. The
Cross was the revelation of God's love for and redemption of the world. That may
be something we will never fully understand as long as we "see through a glass
darkly." Nevertheless, to speak of Jesus' journey to the Cross is to speak of
"divine things." To speak of Jesus avoiding the Cross is to speak of "human
Furthermore, all who follow Christ are to be shaped by the way of the Cross. The
answer couldn't be clearer, yet its clarity does not equal simplicity. We have
to acknowledge that God's word to well-meaning Christians today (those who seek
to avoid all suffering, rejection, and crosses) may still be, "Get behind me
We are called to choose between two options: allow the Cross to shape our lives
and our way of thinking, or continue to rationalize that God's greatest desire
for all His children is that they be free from all suffering.
Many Christians make a recipe for life that completely leaves out bearing a
cross. As ingredients, they mix a series of assorted statements about God: God
has great power, Jesus healed many during His ministry, God has an abundance of
riches, God is loving, etc. Mixing those ingredients together, they come out
with a "best life now" scenario that sounds more like a Ben Franklin proverb
(healthy, wealthy, and wise) than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our choice is to embrace the cross-bearing way of life that Jesus has said is a
"must" for all His disciples, or to reject that way of life. Exactly what it
means to bear our cross is rarely self-evident. If we respond to the call,
however, it is a mystery that deserves our prayerful reflection.
Source: Preacher's Magazine, 2006
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