- Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
- Psalm 22:22-30
- Romans 4:13-25
- Mark 8:31-38
What does it mean to live with full faith and trust in God’s promises, when the reality of what we see and hear appear to be at odds with those promises? In today’s readings the patriarch Abraham and the disciples of Jesus are confronted with such a dilemma when the fulfillment of God’s promises is not what they expected.
The Covenant with Abraham depended upon faithful obedience rather than on a system of rules.”Hoping against hope” (Genesis 17:18), Abraham became the father of many nations despite his age and the barrenness of Sarah – indeed, he is the father of all who come to trust in God.
Jesus calls his followers to a similar radical faith as he prepares them for the future. He reveals to them that he must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and “after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Following the acknowledgment by the disciples that he was the Messiah (vv. 27-30), Jesus now had to help them understand the Messiah’s true nature and mission to the world. This explanation comes in today’s Gospel reading – the first Passion prediction in which Jesus also clarifies his mission and reveals the implications of the Cross to his disciples.
Followers of Jesus must learn to say no to themselves and yes to him (8:34). Instincts, comforts, personal goals, success and security – all of which may be part of God’s natural gifts – must take second place to following the way of Jesus, the Christ.
The Greek word for life in Mark 8:35-37 is not bios, which refers to physical existence, but psyche, which refers to the soul, the activity of a person’s spirit. By clinging to life as they had experience it, as it has been defined for them by others, the disciples would lose their true selves. Old ways would inevitably become dead and unsatisfying. Life, Jesus says, is for wise spending in Christ’s kingdom (8:35), not for safe hoarding or reckless wasting.
In our baptism we offer ourselves to God in Christ, for in the water of baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death” (BCP 306). This sacrifice of self is reinforced at every celebration of the Eucharist, where we offer “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” to God (BCP 336). Each Eucharistic prayer makes some reference to self-offering.
- How might Abraham have felt when God promised to make him an ancestor of a multitude of nations? Compare his situation to that of the disciples as they struggle to understand the implications of Jesus’ prediction in the Gospel.
- Why did Peter rebuke Jesus in Mark 8:32? How do you think Peter must have felt when Jesus rebuked him in turn (v. 33)? How do you think the other disciples might have reacted as they observed this exchange?
- In verse 34, Jesus gives three very specific criteria for discipleship? What are these instructions, and how can we comply with them in our daily lives?
- What answers does twenty-first-century society give to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?”
- What is the difference between self-denial (Mark 8:34) and poor self-esteem or even self-hatred?
- In what ways does society pressure us to “gain the whole world”? How do we end up forfeiting our lives?
- The First Sunday in Lent, Year B: February 26, 2012 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- Ash Wednesday: February 22, 2012 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- Every Church MUST Die (maryharristodd.wordpress.com)