RCL Year B, Proper 19 (Alternate Readings)
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-8, James 3:1-12, Saint Mark 8:27-38

Up until the point of today’s Gospel in Saint Mark’s Gospel, the disciples have had it easy. They have followed Jesus around the countryside. They have had front row seats for his miracles. Peter walks on the water. They have been saved from shipwreck in a terrible storm. They have heard most everything that Jesus has had to say and to teach. They know him better than anyone else.

But with the event in today’s Gospel all that easiness changes. Following Jesus will no longer be easy. It will be hard. They will find that they do not know how to do what lies before them.

The event that changes everything for them is Peter’s Confession. You remember that Jesus asks them, first, who do people say he is, and then who do they say he is. Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah.”[1] At least one person gets it, and Jesus’ ministry alters forever. All that had come before this was to show them who he is. And Peter gets it. Jesus can move along to Part II, the really hard part. He predicts what will happen. He says the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”[2] The hard part lies ahead.

The disciples’ lives will never be the same. The strange world of self-sacrifice has been opened to them, and they want to evade it. They want to go back to the old and easy days. Jesus will show them how to do what they must also do. After the resurrection, they will get it fully. Peter becomes a bold preacher. All of them die, and die willingly, for having witnessed what they are about to witness.

It goes almost without saying, but still it has to be said, that our lives change, too, when we recognize him to be the Messiah. The easy days are over, and the hard things lie before us which, if we can manage it, we take on as best we can, as we are able.

The precise point I want to leave with you is that the cross is not a bad thing that just happens to choose the good-guy Jesus for its victim. Something like that could not be farther from the truth. The truth is that Jesus is a good guy who, because he is good, directs himself to the cross and grabs it in both hands to do some good for you and for me, to do something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. His example teaches that there are worse things than self-sacrifice. And heading the list is the refusal to offer ourselves in self-sacrifice.

How else can we possibly make sense of the central mystery of Jesus? How else can we understand that we lose our life when we try to save it? That we save our life by losing it.

[1] Saint Mark 8:29.

[2] Saint Mark 8:31.