Second Sunday in Lent

by Bear Wade

Winning By Losing
Mark 8:31-38
Second Sunday in Lent
analysis by James Squire


31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


DIAGNOSIS: Fatal Self-Preservation

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: We Judge Jesus to be reckless
“Doing what is necessary to survive” is a thoroughly human mode of operation. It is often necessary in order to improve life, especially when there are many people who are counting on us. To throw caution to the wind when one is leading or participating in a movement, especially one that is truly a worthy cause, is the height of recklessness. Jesus demands to know how he is being identified (8:27-29a). Peter, probably speaking for all his colleagues, gives Jesus a very high identification – “Christ”, which like “Messiah” means “The Anointed One of God” (8:29b). When Jesus not only predicts his own demise but declares that it is necessary (8:31), Peter rebukes him because their very survival is ultimately dependent on his, and if he is scheduled for demise then so are they. Peter can’t have this, and neither can we, because this is no way to make the world a better place. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” We ask, with great sarcasm, “Who does Jesus think he is?”

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: We reject Jesus’ leadership in favor of Satan’s
Our answer to Jesus’ question says as much about us as it does about Him. Mark emphasizes the firmness of Jesus’ position at the beginning of verse 32 with the Greek word parresia which the NRSV translates as “openly”, the RSV translates as “plainly”, and which can also be translated as “boldly”. He wasn’t asking their opinion, like a presidential candidate consulting his advisors. He was asking them – and is asking us – the “faith” question: “This is who I am. Are you with me or not?” As we join Peter in rebuking Jesus, we give our answer: “Nope, sorry. We aren’t with you at all, Jesus. We thought we were, but with you talking that way, it appears that you aren’t with us.” Indeed it may well seem to us that it is Jesus who is off the tracks, suddenly acting suicidal. The bottom line for us is self-preservation. We never truly trusted in Jesus to begin with; we assumed that he was a self-preservationist like us. Jesus identifies the true figurehead of self-preservation: Satan. That is who we have really been following all along, unconditionally in fact.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: We lose our life and earn divine shame
As self-preservationists, we are certainly not about to deny ourselves (8:34) or lose our lives for Jesus’ sake (8:35). Unfortunately for us, the only alternative (there is no middle ground) is that we who are dedicated to preserving our life will ultimately lose it. And the coming of Christ in his Father’s glory, surrounded by Holy Angels will only serve to bring us shame. Before the Almighty, self-preservation is a guaranteed failure. We can only pursue self-preservation by not having anything to do with Jesus and his ministry, but that means facing the Almighty God directly and alone, and having rejected His Son, He will surely reject us and destroy us.

PROGNOSIS: Rescued for a Life of Self-Denial

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Jesus suffers the divine shame and gives us his life
The fact that we cannot be anything other than our self-preservationist selves is precisely why it is necessary “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). The one who asks us to follow him seemingly to death goes out ahead of us and defeats that death, and the shame that goes along with it. He defeats it by suffering it and coming out alive and victorious on the third day. He goes before us, like the force parting the Red Sea of death so that we can walk right through that same death, then unleashing the waves again to drown sin and death in our wake so that these enemies can no longer overtake us. Since sin and death are always pursuing us, the only way to truly save our lives is to lose them in Christ, to go through his death, which he enables us to do.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: We follow the one who resurrects us
Some of Jesus’ followers were able to experience the kingdom of God and were transformed by it (9:1). Through their testimony we too experience the kingdom of God and are transformed by it. As we emerge from the far side of the Red Sea, death has been defeated for us, and we have been spirited to new life on the basis of losing the old one. Against our “better” judgment, we denied ourselves, took up our crosses, and followed him (8:34). Now our better judgment comes from having in mind the things of God (8:33). What is more, we have confidence in facing the Son of Man’s next coming in his Father’s glory, secure in the knowledge that the divine shame due us has already been extinguished by Jesus.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: We are Jesus’ reckless servants out in the world
In self-denial, we will certainly look strange to the world, but no stranger to our world than those first witnesses seemed to the Greco-Roman world around them. Now, as then, there are others out there in that world who upon hearing our testimony and seeing us practicing self-denial in service to others will believe and likewise will see the kingdom of God in us and be transformed by it. Most people in our own adulterous and sinful generation may think we are crazy because we do not act to preserve ourselves, but there will be those who recognize “winning by losing” as a saving strategy. Our calling is to live the life of self-denial in following Jesus.

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