Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me – Mark 8:30-34
Its amazing to think that, according to today’s Gospel, Jesus really did speak all that was going to happen at the end of His earthly ministry – the rejection, the beatings, crucifixion, and even the Resurrection, completely and openly to His followers. A question that presents itself, then is, If it was no secret what would happen, why, then, did all but a few completely abandon Jesus in fear when these things He was speaking of came to pass? Its interesting that it is Peter in today’s Gospel who rebukes Jesus for speaking these things. This same Peter will, of course, be the one who will deny Jesus three times in the midst of the chaos of the trial, scourging, and crucifixion. Thanks be to God, Peter would eventually repent of His lack of faith, unlike the unrepentant Judas, who would take his own life in the depths of despair. But the fact remains that Peter, along with all the other followers save John and the women among his inner circle, did abandon Jesus. But why? Didn’t He tell them what was going to happen?! How could they be so forgetful, so faithless?! He even told them about the Resurrection!
Lest we think ourselves superior to them, let us consider the ways that we often abandon Jesus, having also been given the “rest of the story”, and beyond that, centuries of saints and martyrs who bore witness to that same Resurrection! To do this, it is helpful to look at the heart of what Jesus rebukes Peter for in today’s Gospel. Jesus rebukes Peter for being mindful of the things of the world rather than the things of God. What does that mean in this context? When Jesus was speaking to His followers He was speaking of the suffering that would occur, first to Him, but also to them. Jesus was giving the hard teaching of the Cross – that without the Cross there is no Resurrection. Jesus was not telling people what they wanted to hear – He was by no means a politician – He was certainly not promising prosperity to His followers. But He was promising Resurrection and Abundant life, a defeat of death and complete forgiveness of sin. If we are eternally minded, then the meager rewards the world can offer pale and utterly vanish in the light of this great reward. But how easy it is to be earthly minded – to wish to remove any struggle, any hardship from our lives and to get skittish when its even brought up. Peter may not have been nervous just for himself, but, I can imagine that he was also nervous about this kind of teaching “getting out”.
The Cross isn’t good press. It isn’t cheap and easy. It doesn’t sell. “Who’s going to follow you, Lord, when you’re telling them that you’re going to get crucified, and beyond that, you’re using this crucifixion language to describe what they’re going to have to go through!” Its still a temptation, as Christians, for us to minimize or downplay the Cross, or to think that if we follow Christ our lives will necessarily get easier. Our Lord never said anything like this. He spoke of the reality of the struggle in this life. He spoke of the “narrow way”. But He also said that His burden is easy and His yoke is light. If we are earthly minded, or keep one foot in each world, then we are likely to slip into frustration and even despair when trials come.
The “light yoke” is offered through keeping ones mind and heart fixed on things eternal. If we are assured that no matter what we face in this life, it is not the end of the story, then we can carry on with that hope that surpasses understanding. If this really is the end of the story, if there is no meaning to this life beyond what we experience, then no amount of temporary comfort can really satisfy. In the end we have to face our mortality. In the Cross, our mortality is lifted up with Christ – it is not swept under the rug or ignored – it is acknowledged and overcome. This is the hope that the Cross offers. It offers honesty about our condition – not an opiate or distraction. But when faced and embraced, it offers life, and life abundant in the Resurrection of Our Lord, of which we can also be partakers.