Scripture: Mark 8:27-38 (The Message)Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, “Who do the people say I am?”
“Some say ‘John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’”
He then asked, “And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?”
Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
“If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”
Reflection:“You can’t give up. You have to pick up your cross and carry it. It is your job to follow Jesus.” It was my pastor and mentor who said this to me, the day I called him and told him that I just couldn’t do it any longer. Angry, hurt, and exhausted, I was looking for affirmation to implement my exit strategy, and instead he placed a cross on my back and pointed me squarely toward Calvary. That’s the hard part, that cross-carrying. It’s all fulfilling and rewarding until misunderstandings happen. It’s all fulfilling and rewarding until – well, until it isn’t.
In that moment, I suppose I channeled Peter, the really dense Peter portrayed in Mark’s gospel. Peter gets that Jesus is the Messiah all right, but he has been taught to expect a different kind of Messiah, one who will get the job done with power and an awesome show of force. Jesus tells him, “You have no idea how God works.”
Neither do I, most days. I long for clarity, but I see confusion. I pray for wisdom, but it never arrives (or, if it does, it’s generally a day too late to help me). I attempt to pull my shoes out of the mud, but I sink deeper. Jesus reminds me, as he reminds the disciples, as he reminds the crowds, that clarity and wisdom belong to God. My job is to stop trying to be God and to find myself, to find my real self, on the road to Calvary, my cross hoisted firmly on my back. Bowed down by its weight, humbled by my companion on the journey – the One who walked it first – I find salvation in the life he calls me to lead. It is comforting, I suppose, to know that I don’t have to carry the whole world on my shoulders – just a cross. Put that way, I can focus on what is on the road in front of me. Along the way I may receive a bit of clarity or wisdom, enough to encourage me to take another step. Along the way, I find bread for the journey, often in the form of crumbs left to lead me forward. Along the way, I learn to love myself a bit more, to embrace those around me more wholeheartedly, and to follow Jesus with just a little more faith. When the “how-to’s” on church leadership fail me, I can, after all, still try to be a good and faithful follower.
Sometimes it’s really hard to follow Jesus. Sometimes we sell ourselves short. Sometimes we sell ourselves out. Every time I seek a safe place where I can hide myself from pain, my pastor’s words come back to me. “Pick up your cross and carry it. Follow Jesus.”
Prayer:Holy One, thank you for walking with me in my pain and for leading me forward. Teach me persistence, patience and humility, and help me know your presence on this journey. In the name of Jesus, leader and friend. Amen.
The Rev. Rachel Beam is pastor of First Congregational Church in Bethel, CT.
A note from the editor:
Spirited Wednesday is ending soon. The last Spirited Wednesday devotion will be published on Feb. 28. The authors of these devotions will continue to share their faith and wisdom in a new publication titled Starting With Scripture, a lectionary-based reflection that will be published on Mondays. Subscribers to Spirited Wednesday and The Spirit Calendar will begin receiving the new publication on Monday, March 5.
February 21, 2018