- A lot is going on in a few words in our gospel reading – I shall initially focus on just three points.
- These points are:
- Peter’s ‘confession’ of Jesus as the ‘Messiah
- Jesus’s command to his disciples to keep quiet
- Peter being rebuked with the words “Get behind me, Satan.”
Many commentators see these verses as a turning point in the narrative in Mark’ Gospel.
[It is an open question whether they should be seen as end of the first part or the start of the next part of the Gospel…… But all see them as important verses.]
- Putting it crudely, Jesus begins by asking the disciples how they understand who he is. It is not an easy question, for in Jesus something really new is going on, and it is going to be difficult to describe it in vocabulary that was devised from the older traditions.
- Clearly many people had been trying to describe who Jesus was using old traditional terms and ideas: “John the Baptist; Elijah; and, one of the prophets.”
- Peter enters and continues the conversation, and has a go, again using traditional ideas. He says “You are the Messiah, the anointed one…….” [Or in Greek, The Christos.]
- From our standpoint this is a bit closer, but in Mark’s Gospel Jesus does not say “Well done Peter”. He tells him to keep quiet.
- It is as if Jesus is saying “That is close, but don’t go repeating it …. The old words don’t quite capture what I am really about. If you simply repeat what you have just said here, people will misunderstand, and my mission will be frustrated. “
- And of course as the conversation goes on it soon becomes apparent that Peter has not fully understood what Jesus is about.
- [ Scholars will often call this feature of Mark’s Gospel ‘The Messianic Secret” – that Jesus wants to keep a proper understanding of himself ‘secret”. Much has been written on this, I have neither the time not ability to elaborate it here.]
- For the time being we can simply note that Jesus is evincing two concerns.
- a) He wants to be understood by his disciples – hence the teaching that he gives to them.
- b) But equally he does not want to be misunderstood by the population in general – hence his urging his disciples not to talk about him using ideas which they don’t fully grasp, and that may all too easily lead to a misunderstanding.
- But what sort of “misunderstanding” are we thinking about?
- Let us pause together on that word that Peter used when he said to Jesus “You are the Messiah”,
- [“Messiah” is a Hebrew term meaning “anointed one”, usually translated as “Christ” in Greek.]
- Originally the word “Messiah” was simply a term referring to the anointed King, but the title “Messiah” took on slightly different overtones at different stages in the history of Israel.
- In times of political hardship people might entertain the hope that a king, like their great King David, would arise and make them great as a nation again. [You can almost hear the growing shouts of the activists: ‘Lets Make Israel great again!”]
- However as their political situation got worse and worse, they could not longer see such a figure rising up from among them by natural means. Thus some people began to place their hope in the coming to them, from outside, of some form of supernatural deliverer. Many different ideas either of a messiah figure arising naturally or one coming supernaturally jostled for attention among the people.
- The core of such a belief in a messiah is that it gives hope in a world of confusion, and most of these ideas were characterised by the notion that God will intervene in history by sending someone who by political or other (possibly supernatural) means will rescue his people from oppression.
- It was against this sort of view that we see Jesus beginning to develop a different understanding of Messiah
- Hope is not to be grounded in a cosmic intervention from outside history, for which the people must simply wait and pray
But it is to be grounded in a willingness to walk a way of suffering and rejection.
- With these two notions in our mind, let me pause for a moment, for the Provost, in inviting me to preach, suggested that I might put an ecological spin upon what I might say.
- Obedient to the Provost, I gladly do this, for one question that animates us all today is “What can we do about climate change?”
- I have spoken on this before in this Cathedral, and I recall in my address then telling of an incident I saw when I was watching the television, which in its simple way expresses in iconic form, the issue we face..
- The programme was on the work of the Chemist Joseph Priestly.
- The presenter was discussing aspects of Priestley’s thought, and was doing this by illustrating his seminal experiments.
- You will recall that Priestly was a person involved with the discovery of the significance of the Oxygen in the air for the preservation of life, and also of the power of plants to take in Carbon Dioxide and give out Oxygen again into the atmosphere.
- The presenter illustrated one of Priestley’s experiments whereby Priestley put a mouse under a bell jar, and left it in that sealed container. Priestly saw that the mouse used up the oxygen and swiftly died.
- Priestley did another experiment, which the presenter also illustrated, Here a mouse and a green plant were together placed under a similar sealed bell jar. Here, as the mouse used up the oxygen, the plant took in the carbon dioxide and gave oxygen back into the atmosphere. And so the mouse and plant together continued to live and survive in the bell jar.
- The two were thus set for a happy if constrained life together in their simple little universe.
- However, just as the presenter was moving away from his demonstration, which sought to reproduce Priestley’s apparatus, we saw (behind his back) the little mouse in the bell jar walk gently across to the plant and start to eat it.
- The picture captures the danger we are in. We are consuming he elements on our planet which enable it to sustain our life together. And we return to the question; What can we do about climate change?”
- There are two ways we can go.
- We can sit and simply wait, hoping for some solution simply to turn u Just as some of Jesus friends and disciples might have been hoping for a saviour to turn up and whisk them out of their current political difficulties.
- Or we work at it, in ways that will be difficult, involving hardship, and opposition, akin to the path that Jesus chose to walk, and about which he taught his disciples.
- Sadly the problem of the ecology of our planet is not simply going to go away if we simply wait for something to change or to turn up. It needs to be addressed, and to address it involves us all in walking a path of discomfort.
- Hope comes into the world not from simply waiting, but from a willingness to walk a difficult and uncomfortable path. And to work for such a hope is our calling – it is to follow the path of Jesus
- We recall how the passage which we had as our gospel goes on:
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.
- The challenge is there.
- To be willing to give up some of the enhancements of our current life, in order to save everything. And it does mean “everything”.
- It is the path walked by Jesus.
It is the path we are called to follow.