Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
28 February 2021
The exchange between Jesus and Peter in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is one of the most shocking scenes in the Bible for me. Jesus calls one of his beloved disciples, someone in his inner circle, Peter no less, “Satan.” In the Gospel of Mark, Peter is the only person who is reprimanded by Jesus in such harsh terms. It doesn’t get any worse than being called “Satan.” Peter must have been utterly stunned, confused, and hurt. What could he have possibly done to provoke such a strong indictment? Is Peter possessed by the Devil? Or perhaps he’s the Devil in disguise? But we all know it’s not Peter who betrays Jesus; it’s Judas. On the surface, it seems that Peter is just looking out for Jesus. When Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, Peter, out of his concern for the well-being of his master, naturally protests. He doesn’t want Jesus, his teacher and friend, to suffer and die.
Then, why does Jesus rebuke him? When we read on, Jesus explains that Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. What does Jesus mean by this dichotomy between “divine things” and “human things”? To place this incident in context, the disciples have been riding high on Jesus’ successful ministry. Huge crowds have been following Jesus to hear his preaching and to be healed of all sorts of diseases. The disciples are basking in the light of their master’s fame and glory. And right before the incident with Peter, Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus asks them who the people say he is, and they answer that some say Elijah and others, John the Baptist. And it is, in fact, Peter who makes the confession of faith: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:27-30). But then far from being praised for his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, he is soon reprimanded. Peter is confused. So are the rest of the disciples. What is going on?
Jesus rebukes Peter because he and the other disciples have it all wrong about the nature of the Messiah. They envision Jesus as an earthly king, who will use his power and authority to drive out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders, and establish a new kingdom. And the disciples see themselves on the verge of obtaining honor and glory themselves. In the following chapters of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples will argue about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34), and a couple of them, James and John, will ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-37).
Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because this way of thinking, seeing the kingdom in terms of earthly power, honor, and glory, is precisely what Satan had used to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain for a view of all the kingdoms of the world in their glory, and he tells Jesus: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” To which, Jesus replies: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4:8-10). When Jesus rebukes Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan,” he is drawing a direct parallel with this earlier incident, in which Jesus rebukes the Devil with the words, “Away with you, Satan.” So, unknowingly, Peter had become a tempter, like Satan, presenting Jesus with earthly glory and threatening to derail his divine mission.
Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on the “human things” of personal glory, power, and honor. And then he calls the other disciples as well as the crowd to explain the “divine things.” He tells them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus paints a radically different picture of the Messiah than what the disciples had expected. The Messiah will suffer and die, and he expects his followers to do the same.
In spite of the initial confusion and resistance to this message, the disciples did ultimately take up their crosses and give up their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. And so have countless others in the two millennia of Christian history. One of the great benefits for me of the Daily Masses that we have here at St. Mary’s is the observance of the feast days for the various saints. It is an inspiration to learn about the lives of the faithful down through the ages. And when we look at these saints, the examples that we hold up for following Jesus, not all of them were martyrs. Some of them lived to a ripe old age, including one of the twelve apostles, Saint John. The saints show us that martyrdom is not the only way to give up our lives for the gospel. We can offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Think of the missionaries who gave up their lives of comfort, security, and privilege to venture out to distant and dangerous lands to proclaim the Gospel or the monks and nuns who gave up their lives of creature comforts and luxuries to dedicate themselves to prayer.
I find great inspiration in the life and witness of the saints. But these past few weeks, I have also found inspiration closer to home. As you have probably heard or seen on the news, the pandemic has greatly increased the number of the homeless as well as the food insecure. And several of our St. Mary’s staff and parishioners have taken up the challenge of providing food and other necessities. In case you’re not aware, we have a nice pantry downstairs in the basement. Check it out sometime if you have chance; we would be glad to give you a little tour. These past few weeks, we’ve had many volunteers who have brought food and other goods, made sandwiches and bags of food, or helped to clean up and organize the pantry. And one parishioner even loaded a truck full of food and took it to the doorsteps of those in need.
We have living saints in our midst today, faithful followers of the Lord Jesus who give up their time, energy, and resources to serve the poor and needy in our community. The work that we do in serving the needy is especially meaningful during this Holy Season of Lent. Almsgiving, or charitable work, is one of the three main disciplines or pillars of Lent; the other two are prayer and fasting.
Lent is a time of self-denial and reflection in preparation for the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We usually think of the self-denial in terms of giving up meat or chocolate or alcohol. But the self-denial is not just about food. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves in all aspects of our life. He calls us to transcend the worldly temptations of power, honor, and glory, and to lead lives of self-denial, humility, and service. Following the example of Jesus and of all the saints past and present, let us take up our cross and walk the path to Calvary.
 C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-831-38-4
 Ira Brent Driggers, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher.
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