Each week, I take some time to reflect on one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week for the second Sunday of Lent, we're going to look at the Gospel Passage: Mark 8:31-38.
It's never a good day when you're called Satan (well, unless you're Satan's niece April Ludgate-Dwyer). Peter was having just that kind of day. It started well enough. He declared that Jesus was the Messiah, which in Mark's messianic secret gospel was a pretty big deal. But then Jesus said he would be arrested and executed before rising from the dead. Peter believed that all of this prognosticating should not be what was in the cards for a messiah and that's when he got called Satan.
I can't give Peter grief for this. I can't fault him for being confused when he's told the one that is supposed to save his people is supposed to be killed like a common criminal. And at least, he said something. I would not be as bold. I would hear Jesus say these things and quietly panic. "Oh no, he's cracking. Something is finally getting to him: the ministry, threats from the outside, the heat."
By the time Jesus got around to saying that his followers must take up their own instruments of execution daily, I probably would be trying to formulate some sort of escape plan. My folks need me back home. The fishing business is in bad shape. Or maybe I would take a more straight-forward approach: I don't want to be executed.
And that's what makes me stop with this passage: the entire idea of taking up my cross. We talk about this passage a lot in American churches, but I always feel like we are playing a bit of pretend. We have the luxury of this concept being more or less spiritual. We die to ourselves and I don't want to downplay what an important concept that is. Yet Jesus was talking about something even more risky. He was talking about a situation in which people would literally risk their lives.
That's not a scenario that American Christians typically face. We don't know persecution over here (and before you say anything, no, that's not persecution). We don't know it as those early followers knew it. We don't know it as the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by terrorists knew it. We don't know it as people who are sent to jail or lives are threatened simply because they worship God.
It makes me realize that I don't really know what it means to take up my cross. Not fully. When we talk about taking up our cross over here, we're like a kid who brags that he can swim even though he's only seen a kiddie pool. For the most part, we don't know what it is like for our faith to truly be risky. Of course, there are some that do. I think about those during the civil rights movement who stood up for the oppressed because Jesus did the same. Or those who give up basically all they have to live amongst the poor. I am not saying that we're horrible people or that we are less Christian than these others. We are blessed to live in a place where our faith and the faiths of others is not threatened.
But the thing that makes me stop in my tracks is that I don't believe I want to know what it means to truly take up my cross. I look at my children and my wife. I think about the ways in which I can still serve God. And I just don't want to face that. Of course, I suspect no one wants to face that. I suspect the twenty-one brave women and men in Egypt did not want to truly take up their cross. Yet they did when faced with that scenario.
It is a scary part of this Lenten journey that we have to traverse. Jesus plainly tells his followers that this way could cost us everything. I do not fully grasp that and selfishly pray that I never do. Yet how are we that follow Jesus in relative safety are to respond to this? I think we recognize how fortunate we are and we pray fervently for those who do face persecution. And I think we look for ways in which we can leave our zones of comfort in our lives for God and for those who are in need.
Jesus' conversation with Peter and the others unsettles me greatly. It makes me acutely aware of those areas in which I am not sure if I completely believe. I pray that God would help my unbelief. I pray that I may honor God whether in safety or danger.