February 28, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19 (9)
Our local newspaper on most days includes brief obituaries of notable community members. These short notices attempt to provide some insight into who that person really was and the contribution they made. The heading for each entry includes the person’s name and then a one- or two-word description, such as “economist,” “pastor,” or “social activist.” I once had a co-worker who feared that her life would be boiled down to “church worker.” Today’s Gospel reading left me wondering how it would feel to see the identifier “disciple” and how it would be reflected in the obituary that followed.
The Revised Common Lectionary today features a passage from the Gospel of Mark that is nestled between Peter’s famous confession of faith and the story of the Transfiguration. If one were to create a screenplay of this incident in the context of the verses that precede it, it might unfold like this:
Jesus (to the disciples): Who do you say that I am?
Peter (eagerly): You are the Messiah!
Jesus (to the disciples): Right—but don’t tell anyone. The Son of Man will be rejected and killed, and then rise again.
Peter (taking Jesus aside and in a horrified tone): There is NO WAY that’s going to happen.
Jesus (speaking first to Peter and then to the whole crowd around them): You’re speaking for Satan, not for God! And I might as well tell you now that there’s more: If you want to be my disciple, you need to take up your cross too and follow me. The only way to life is through death.
(Jesus, Peter, James, and John move to the mount of Transfiguration for the next scene.)
In this scene Peter speaks on behalf of all the disciples. Because he has confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, they think they know who he is and how he will roll out his claim to that title. They’ve witnessed the amazement of the crowds. They have not only seen him cast out demons and heal the sick, but they have themselves performed some of those same works in his name. And yet they have not yet grasped where all this is going.
In the passage we hear today, Jesus clarifies the meaning of Peter’s declaration by redefining two important terms: “Messiah” (Christ) and “disciple.” In his reflections on Lent and Easter, God Is on the Cross, Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes the teaching of today’s Gospel and its redefinition of those two terms in this one succinct sentence: “As Christ is Christ only as the suffering and rejected one, so the disciple is a disciple only as one who suffers and is rejected, as one crucified with Jesus.”
Following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and once again as the three disciples walk down the mountain after the Transfiguration, he instructs them not to tell anyone. Only after they have walked with him along the path of rejection and death and have become witnesses to the resurrection will they understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah and what it requires of them to be disciples.
During this Lenten season we remember the journey of Jesus through suffering and death to new life. Are we ready to pick up our cross and follow that path as well? What expectations do we need to leave behind to be faithful disciples?
Are we ready to see our name with the description “disciple” as the heading for our own obituary?
A Hymn for Today: “Take Up Your Cross”
Based on a poem written in 1833 by Connecticut minister Charles William Everest when he was just nineteen years old, this hymn text has appeared in more than 250 hymnals. It expresses the connection between the cross of Christ, the cross that each disciple is called to bear, and the life that is promised to those who follow faithfully.
Take up your cross, the Savior said,
if you would my disciple be;
take up your cross with willing heart,
and humbly follow after me.
Take up your cross; let not its weight
fill your weak spirit with alarm;
Christ’s strength shall bear your spirit up
and brace your heart and nerve your arm.
Take up your cross; heed not the shame,
and let your foolish pride be still;
the Lord for you accepted death
upon a cross, on Calvary’s hill.
Take up your cross, then, in Christ’s strength,
and calmly every danger brave;
it guides you to abundant life
and leads to victory o’er the grave.
Text: Charles Williams Everest, 1833, alt.
Tunes: BRESLAU; QUEBEC; ERHALT UNS, HERR; BOURBON
Image Credit: Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, James Tissot
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.