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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | Mark 8:27—9:1

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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.”

He 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (NRSV)

This is a retreat. Caesarea Philippi (also called Banias) is about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It’s thirty-five miles from Bethsaida, on the north shore of the sea, where the story right before this one takes place. Caesarea Philippi is to Galilee on foot what Montreat is to Chicago in a twelve-passenger van.

I don’t know how much significance we should attach to the location and to the movement of Jesus and his disciples away from their home base. It feels like there is some significance. There are questions that are best explored at a remove from the day-to-day rotation of work and relationships, and “Who do you say that I am?” feels like one of them. It is searchingly personal. The way it’s asked, where it’s asked, the person asking it: everything conspires to pile weight on the query. That weight could crush a disciple.

Only, there’s an answer. Peter’s got it (“Messiah”—anointed/chosen/sent one), but there’s no trophy for him. Only a stern order to keep it under wraps, and a swift critique in the next breath. So much for being the teacher’s pet.

This exchange has always challenged my notion of Jesus’ identity in relation to our commission as his disciples. He is who these stories say he is, and we have been—from those earliest post-resurrection days in Jerusalem—designated as witnesses to that truth. Yet some mystery still clings to that commission. We can still hear Jesus warning Peter not to bandy that claim around so easily, and we can still feel the blood rising in Peter’s face as Jesus dresses him down: “You just don’t get it.”

We still don’t.

God, you sent Jesus to be the world’s teacher, healer, and savior, and you call us as his witnesses. May we tell his story with confidence, even as we search ourselves for right understanding and right living in its light, so that your reign of peace and justice might start, however hesitantly, with us. Amen.

Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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