The Holy Gospel: March 4, 2012 (Year B)

Read:  Mark 8:31-38

Meditation:  “When Religion Changes”

Every New Testament scholar I know sees the time that Jesus spent with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi as the “turning point”—not only for Jesus himself, but also for the apostles.  Jesus described it in three dimensions:  denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.

We should not be surprised at Peter’s quick shift from affirmation to reproof.  It’s what happens when our ego realizes there’s going to be a “cost” to our discipleship—when we realize someone else is defining what’s going on.

Things had not been hunkey-dorey before Caesarea Philippi.  There was controversy, and even then being a follower of Christ was not all fun and games.  But it never seemed to be connected with having to die—with perhaps the exception of John the Baptist’s death.

But now, the apostles’ beloved Rabbi was on a collision course with death, and the only way for him and the twelve to get there was through what he called “denying themselves.”

And right there is where we hear an inner voice say, “Wait a minute!  I wasn’t counting on that when I set out with Jesus.”  Egotism attaches itself to a form of religion that can be practiced on its own terms (both with respect to frequency and depth), but it draws back when religion means that someone else is now calling the shots (which is essentially what self-denial means).

Religion changes when we cease to be authors and become readers—when “having it our way” becomes accepting it Christ’s way.  We cease to be inventors of the Gospel and begin to be adherents of something that already exists.

This really has very little to do with a literal death on a cross, though martyrdom still exists on the earth.  Nevertheless it includes a cross—“take up their cross”, Jesus says—not his.  Our cross is our mission, just as his cross was his mission.

Our mission is initiated in our responses to Christ’s invitation, “follow me.”  And then it continues in a devotion to God’s will within the particular dimensions (mission) of our respective lives.  Religion changes when we follow Christ after our “Caesarea Philippi,” but in a new way.

Lent is the season to decide whether or not religion is going to change in our lives, or remain the same—that is, whether it is now going to become “following Jesus” or simply continuing the egocentric plan of making it up largely on our own terms and timetables.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to The Holy Gospel: March 4, 2012 (Year B)

  1. Jim Bradshaw says:

    It also reveals the levels of revelation of Christ, his Kingdom and Church that we can grasp in our growth of discipleship… as Peter initially “received” the revelation of Jesus being the Messiah, but did not fully grasp at that time the depths and widths of what that meant… even as Jesus “prophesied” that Simon (flesh and blood) would be known as Peter (receiving the revelation of the Father… a sure foundation), and that he would get the revelation and the authority regarding the mandate of church, the New Israel, this holy nation Jesus would be building symbolized by receiving the “keys” of the Kingdom. And, that mandate included binding the strong man (Jesus conquering Satan at the cross) and plundering Satan’s kingdom of darkness (discipling the nations) with the baptism of Spirit and fire!

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