We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
With these few verses in our lectio we reach the real point of Mark’s Gospel – that the Christ has come to be revealed in his Passion. The verses which have preceded these, of course, form a single unit and each portion relies upon the other for its full meaning: the faith realisation about Jesus’ true identity and then what that identity implies. Name always in Sacred Scripture brings the sense of call and mission, and it can be no different at this point: Jesus is revealed with a name which is also a title, and the Name-Title which he bears is distinguished by an absolutely unique mission: suffering which is redemptive.
Of course, we don’t know this yet. These few verses say nothing about the relationship between the suffering which Christ must undergo and the point of that suffering. At this moment, for Mark and for the apostles and indeed for us, it is sufficient that we come to terms with the reality of the paradox which lies at the heart of our faith.
If it is difficult for us to explain and accept, how much more so must it have been for these followers of Jesus. Their whole history is one which is heavy with the notion of greatness associated with the anointing ceremony. Right from the moment of Saul’s anointing as first king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1) the sense that in anointing (and the word Messiah-Christ means, simply, ‘the anointed one’) there is consecration and the power of God present is unmistakable:
“Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head; then he kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you prince over his people Israel? You are the man who must rule the Lord’s people, and who must save them from the power of the enemies surrounding them’”1 Samuel 10:1
And after Saul has, tragically and calamitously, failed in his calling and leadership, Samuel is led to anoint David, who will stand as the signal for all who will be anointed ones:
“When Jesse and his sons had arrived for the sacrifice, Samuel caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him’, but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or of his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart’…. Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these’…. Jesse had David sent for, a boy, of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing. The Lord said, ‘ Come, anoint him, for this is the one’. At this, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on”1 Samuel 16:1-13
Lastly, the Davidic line is assured with the anointing of his son, Solomon, the Temple builder, told us in 1 Kings 1:28-40.
Again and again, however, we are reminded that the one anointed is at the service of God’s people. The anointing is not for him but rather a witness to the God who never forgets his covenant and never forsakes his people. This aspect of messiahship – that it is God who is the one who blesses, frees, delivers, is illustrated in a remarkable way in the prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah. The deliverance of God’s people, who are in exile and cut off from their homeland, is achieved by one whom God appoints as Messiah himself, one who, unknown to himself, becomes God’s instrument for the consolation of the chosen people: Cyrus the Great, the Persian king (590-529BC) who brought Israel’s exile in Babylon to an end:
I am he who says of Cyrus, ‘My shepherd – he will fulfill my whole purpose, saying of Jerusalem, “Let her be rebuilt”, and of the Temple, “Let your foundation be laid”.
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
Whom he has taken by his right hand
To subdue nations before him
And strip the loins of kings,
To force gateways before him
That their gates be closed no more:
It is for the sake of my servant Jacob,
Of Israel my chosen one,
That I have called you by your name,
Conferring a title though you do not know me.Isaiah 45:1-6
The complex idea of Messiah-Christ was already established in the Jewish mind, and it had a complex history. But nothing could compare with Jesus’ living out of this anointing.
The announcement of the Passion is part of Jesus’ teaching, according to Mark. Thus, it is not supplementary, but rather central – the Greek text is very clear: the Son of Man must suffer many things. Now we are presented with the utterly unexpected link of messiahship with suffering.
And so to ourselves, since in our lectio it is the Word which reads us and speaks to us in our own lives and experience. We are asked to review this character which we possess as persons who are anointed. Our conformity to Jesus Christ is one which is especially grounded in this, and defines us, of course, as Christians: the name means, most immediately, the Christ followers, and then, more deeply, the ones who follow and are like the Christ, in other words, are anointed like him. Now we touch the heart of our Christian lives, since this life can be nothing if it is not Christ living in me. This is the central realisation which St Paul has and which he reflects continuously in his letters. A few examples will suffice, both to illustrate what we are saying but also to provide more moments for our own lectio meditation:
I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in meGalatians 2:19-20
All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in ChristGalatians 3:27
I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again, until Christ is formed in youGalatians 4:19
You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desiresGalatians 5:24
Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith….Ephesians 3:16-19
My one hope and trust is that I shall never have to admit defeat, but that now as always I shall have the courage for Christ to be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my deathPhilippians 1:20
Life to me, of course, is ChristPhilippians 1:21
In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus….Philippians 2:5
All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his deathPhilippians 3:10
It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the ChurchColossians 1:24
You must live your whole life according to the Christ you have received – Jesus the LordColossians 2:6
If you have really died with Christ to the principles of this world, why do you still let rules dictate to you, as though you were still living in the world?Colossians 2:20
Since you have been brought back to life with Christ….Colossians 3:1
The life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with himColossians 3:3-4
You have stripped off your old behaviour with your old self, and you have put on a new self … There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everythingColossians 3:9-11
Even if we were to take one of these short phrases from the Pauline epistles each day we would be immersing ourselves in the Christ event itself: for Paul, “Christ” is no longer title, “The Anointed One”, but is the name of the One who has come from the Father, lived, died and been raised to new life, and has forgiven us our sins and offers us life life for eternity. Above every other name or title, Christ is the name of the Saviour for Paul.
And perhaps, more than anything else in the New Testament, Paul provides the key for understanding the enigma which Jesus seems to offer to his disciples in these verses in Mark’s Gospel: the only goal possible for the Christ’s suffering, death at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and his rising.
We are challenged in our expectations in these verses, just as the disciples were. There is an entirely unexpected jolt for them as Jesus explains what lies ahead – they must now put aside (is it possible?) their own historically grounded ideas of messiahship and replace them with a scene which is virtually incomprehensible to them. And so, perhaps, when God begins to reveal his plans for us – they can run entirely counter to what we had expected and indeed planned. How often the saying comes true: the person proposes, and God disposes! The radical discernment of God’s will in our own lives can catch us unawares, and yet he will never do anything which diminishes us – God is not capricious, he does not dwell on Olympus in that disgruntled and unpredictable collection. But he does wish us to cooperate with him and with the grace which lies in wait for us.
Peter’s remonstration here is part of an almost predictable human revolt against the divine will. In this word of disagreement with Jesus we are dragged right back to Genesis and the first revolt. If Adam said to God “I will not obey” by his sin, so, in a sense, does Peter here – he refuses to take Jesus’ word for what he says. Is this part of the ongoing ignorance of the disciples to recognise the one who is with them, teaching them, giving them signs? Even with the confession a few verses before which Peter makes there is even a sense that it is merely “talk”, without the “walk”! “You are the Christ”, which we might now take to mean, “You are the Christ that I want and expect, the one who is made in my image and who will deliver my expectations according to my plans”. And certainly the incapacity of the disciples to believe persists right to the end of the Gospel (Mark 16:14)
If we do put this encounter between Jesus and Peter in this context – revisiting Eden, as it were – we can better understand Jesus’ rebuke to Peter. Is it really that he is tempted to step aside from the Father’s will and conform to a human will and model? Or rather that the devil – Satan – will constantly, in one way or another, try to disrupt our acceptance of Christ, our acceptance of the Father’s will expressed in Christ and by Christ, and our transformation into Christ by Christ’s saving grace?
Christ dismisses Satan here as the interloper and disrupter, the rebel before all others whose character is marked by constant refusal. And so, the second phrase given in Christ’s mouth here is entirely understandable also – Satan’s way of thinking is the contradictory of God’s, and so is to be condemned.
Thus the great point of contrast here should strike us in our own lives: it is not simply a matter of “going our own way” when we refuse to accept God’s will and reject it – it is the way of the one who always rebelled. And this way which is “man’s way” is, of course, the fallen man of the first sin. Now we are confronted by choice: to go the way of the New Man – Christ – or to remain as we are – fallen.
This is a very demanding lectio because Christ stands before us as he is and asks us to look upon him in his total revelation to us. This pivotal moment in the Gospel is not now only about the first prediction of the Passion but about how we cleave to it and the Jesus who will live it. This is not merely about whetting our appetite for the great climax of the Gospel narrative – this is about life with Christ and for Christ – as the next few verses will show!
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-