This morning’s Gospel lesson is like a fulcrum at the center of Mark’s message—the hinge upon which the curiosity of the disciples swings open into true faith. The true nature of Jesus’ identity, and the implications of what that means for his followers, is now on the table. The public mission of Jesus in Galilee is essentially over, and from this moment on everything points toward Jerusalem, and so the disciples are given entirely new teaching: The Son of Man must suffer and be crucified!
When the Disciples—especially Peter—heard the new teaching, it didn’t sit well. Watching Jesus endure suffering, death, persecution…this is not the sort of thing that gets a person out of bed to come to worship in the morning! Peter actually took hold of Jesus and began to rebuke him, as if to say, “this really isn’t the sort of Christ we were looking for!” Jesus rebuked him right back: “Well, you aren’t looking in any place that God cares about!”
Jesus went on to say that not only will the Son of Man suffer, but everyone who will be a true disciple must likewise enter a self-denying, cross-enduring life of their own. The word we’d all suspected, but not wanted to face, is finally announced: in order to keep our lives, we have to let them go. If we clutch on and try to save ourselves, we will lose what we’ve got.
At the heart of the entire matter is the basic question of who is “in charge.” Do we make Jesus ours, or we are his? Will we try to make Jesus into our personal Christ, or will we ourselves become his obedient disciples? In Mark’s Gospel the whole narrative hinges on that one essential question. For us today, it is still a matter of life and death.