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Get Behind Me, or Get Behind Me!

Get Behind Me, or Get Behind Me!

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I often wonder what the Disciples thought they were signing up for when they left their jobs, their homes, and their families to follow Jesus.

 

Time after time, scripture shows us that the Disciples really had very little idea about the weight of the promises they were making and the intentions they were declaring when they put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Throughout the Gospels, it seems clear that the Disciples were pretty certain that they would be achieving some sort of greatness — greatness by human standards. They believed that their faith in and proximity to the Messiah meant that they would receive glory, rather than give honor; that they would be royally served rather than humbly serve. They expected reward without putting in work, salvation without suffering, eternal life without risk to their earthly life. They did not recognize or realize that there was a cost to discipleship.

 

But I don’t really fault the Disciples too much. There wasn’t exactly a job description for being a member of the Messiah’s street team. And these guys were fully human, with all of their fully human perspectives, desires, and measures of greatness and success.

 

On the other hand, once things got rolling along, Jesus was pretty clear about what discipleship meant: It was not easy. There was a lot of risk and uncertainty. There was a lot of walking. There was a lot of going into inhospitable areas and consorting with socially unacceptable people — ritually and religiously unclean people, social pariahs, those with illnesses of the mind, body, and spirit. Not exactly a gig that comes with a lot of prestige.

 

The scripture reading we heard today from the Gospel of Mark poses something of a midterm exam for the Disciples. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, the Disciples have been alongside Jesus as he taught large crowds, miraculously fed even larger crowds, healed people whose illnesses confounded physicians and made them outcasts. They heard scores of lessons, parables, prophecies, and premonitions about what lay ahead for Jesus and, indeed, for them.

 

Jesus wants to know how the Disciples view him and just what their devotion to him means. Maybe partly curious about his reputation, Jesus asks the Disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer back with quite flattering and religiously significant identities: Some are saying he’s the recently-martyred John the Baptist who proclaimed the coming Messiah; others are saying he’s the great Israelite prophet Elijah, the harbinger of the Messiah, or a another re-born Israelite prophet who called the people back to God. All fine enough, but who, Jesus asks, do the Disciples themselves think that he is? Peter proclaims it simply and boldly: “You are the Messiah.”

 

Though Peter knew the right response, it was clear that he didn’t understand what it really meant that Jesus was the Messiah: the long-promised human-divine savior known as the Son of Man — or as we heard in today’s translation from Womanist scholar Dr. Wil Gafney, the Son of Woman.

 

When Jesus spoke plainly of the prophesied persecution, suffering, and martyrdom of the Son of Man within earshot of the gathered crowd, Peter was quick to pull Jesus aside and try to silence him. Standing in front of that crowd with Jesus calling out the elders, priests, and religious authorities for their corruption and injustice, it seemed that Peter was motivated by fear to quiet Jesus before he got them all into trouble.

 

Of course, Jesus was having none of that, and he quickly shut down Peter before he could even finish his sentence: “Get behind me, Satan!” Clearly, Peter did not understand the implications of his own words just moments earlier, his proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. For, to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah is to understand that he will be persecuted and martyred. And to proclaim oneself as a disciple of the Messiah is to understand that you, yourself, will pay a great cost for following him.

 

Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things;” echoing the word of God spoken through the Prophet Isaiah:

         “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

             nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

         For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

          so are my ways higher than your ways

         and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[1]

 

Peter and the other Disciples: Their minds were on human things; human measures of success, blessedness, and victory. Their concern was for themselves as individuals: their personal disposition in the coming kingdom of God versus their interconnectedness in the here-and-now Kin-dom of God.

 

Jesus had a very clear mission on earth: to share the Good News of God’s liberating love through a call to justice and righteousness. In that moment, Peter presented himself as an adversary — like the Biblical tempter and trickster Ha-Satan — an obstacle standing in between Jesus and his mission; and Jesus would not be silenced or deterred.

 

Jesus is going to lead, and you can either follow or get out of the way: line up and get behind Jesus, or step back and clear out of the path. “Get behind me, or get behind me.”

 

In order to get behind Jesus and follow him, the willing and faithful disciple must begin by denying themselves and taking up the cross. This was the cost of discipleship. To deny oneself is not simply to put the needs of others before your own, but to attend to the needs of others even when and especially when doing so puts your own power, privilege, social status, religious purity, and even your own safety on the line in order that God’s justice and righteousness may be fulfilled. Denying oneself means that you sacrifice some measure of your own self-interest so that others may have something instead of nothing — that you would turn the generosity of your heart, mind, spirit, and treasures toward the common good — and that you would do this not in anticipation of some sort of quid pro quo earthly or even heavenly reward, but simply because this is what it means to be a disciple.

 

Again, the Gospels show us this ongoing tension and misunderstanding, with the Disciples never seeming to really, fully understand the commitments and the costs, focused on the rewards, despite Jesus’s bluntness about the risks of discipleship.

 

Not long after Jesus rebukes Peter for having his mind on human things like safety and glory, the Disciples James and John (the sons of Zebedee) pull Jesus aside and ask him to grant them the honor of sitting at his right and left when the kingdom of God is established and Jesus comes into glory. They must not have been listening when Jesus spoke of self-denial and suffering.

 

Jesus rebukes them and reemphasizes the cost of discipleship: You don’t know what you’re asking of me. Can you drink the cup that I drink? Can you be baptized like I was baptized? James and John of course both eagerly answer “yes!”

 

But Jesus is really asking: Can you endure persecution like I have? Can you risk your life for the sake of sharing the liberating Good News? Can you rebuke the oppressive empire while you’re being nailed to a cross? Can you call out the unrighteous and unjust to their faces? Can you deny yourself and your own, individual well being so that others might know God’s love?

You want glory? Then serve others. You want greatness? Then humble yourself.

And to make sure he gets his point across:

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[2]

 

The gravity of the commitment to discipleship is repeated again in Jesus’s final discourse to his Disciples in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[3] No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[4]

 

The Disciples might not have fully understood the dire risks of their commitment to Christ while Christ walked among them, but they clearly came to understand the costs of discipleship as they walked in the way of Christ. Christian tradition tells us that Jesus’s warning about the very real risks to their lives would come to fruition as most of the Disciples were later martyred for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Yes, there is a cost to following Jesus; there is a cost to discipleship.

 

Even though we may never face the same suffering, persecution, or martyrdom as the Disciples or some of our siblings in the faith in various parts of the world, there are still ways in which living out and living into our discipleship bears a cost and requires sacrifices.

 

We are not exempt from Jesus’s call to shift our minds from human things to divine things and to deny ourselves and take up the cross in order to follow Jesus.

 

You may never be called upon to lay down your life in order to save someone else’s — but you are called to lay down your comfort, your privilege, your social status, your wealth, your convenience, your entitlement, your pride, and your power if you truly seek to get behind Jesus and follow him as a disciple. You might not be called to greatness and glory, but you will be called to service and humility. You might not be called to martyrdom, but you will be called to self-denial. If you want to get behind Jesus and be a disciple, you will be called to take up your cross and lose your self-seeking and self-centered life for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Amen.


[1] Isaiah 55:8-9

[2] Mark 10:35-45 paraphrase

[3] John 15:12

[4] John 15:13

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