The Gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent narrates an encounter between Jesus and Peter at a critical inflection point. Not sure that Jesus is getting his messianic script right, Peter presumes to rebuke him for his prophecy about suffering, rejection, being killed, and then rising again (Mark 8:31). The lectionary texts during this season illumine Jesus’ growing self-awareness of his impending crucifixion and the varied forms of resistance—from within his own circle of disciples as well as religious authorities and Roman authorities.
This first passion prediction is not welcomed by Peter, and he takes a tone with his teacher that no learner should take! Jesus reacts swiftly, and his stern correction of the disciple, “Get behind me, Satan!” is a well-known line. Jesus is reminding him to fall back in line behind him—the appropriate position of a disciple—and trust that he is following God’s pathway.
The necessity of suffering is an affront, both then and now. Jesus knew what had happened to John the Baptist for his fearless proclamation; why would he be spared a similar tragic end? Yet, the connection between the gospel and the cross has always been hard to bear. Disciples find it hard to follow one who invites cross-bearing as demonstration of fidelity.
Rebuking Jesus occurs in our day when churches care more to preserve an image of themselves, drawn from the past, than find hospitable ways to include new neighbors. We rebuke Jesus when “the least” cannot catch our eye or prick our hearts. Jesus’ way is trampled underfoot when our sense of entitlement outstrips compassion for those competing for government resources. We think we know better what saving our lives looks like; denying ourselves is thought to be of negligent value in our acquisitive culture. We are skilled at rebuking Jesus.
Above all, Lent is a period of testing, of measuring ourselves against the template of Jesus’ faithfulness. The wilderness to which we are drawn may be aridity of our own hearts, a place where mercy cannot grow. Yet, the promise of this liturgical season is a new heart, clean and supple, which can direct our steps more closely in the way of Jesus.
Eventually Peter learned whom to follow, and so can we. “For what will if profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (8:36). Hopefully, we can hear the rebuke of Jesus as needed in this season. It will make all the difference.
Molly T. Marshall
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