“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)
Last week, in our Gospel reading, Jesus was baptised by John and a voice from heaven, the voice of God, declared that Jesus was “my Son, the Beloved”. After this act of commitment and affirmation Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to work out the implications of his revealed identity and how to live out that identity in accordance with God’s will.
Mark doesn’t go into details of the temptations Jesus faces but from Matthew and Luke we get an idea of what they were: the temptation to be a Messiah of miracles and dramatic signs; to perform super-human feats to prove that God will protect him and to take for himself kingship and power over all the known world.
Jesus deals with each of these temptations in turn and holds steadfastly to his commitment to do things God’s way and not his own.
This week we see a similar pattern of events, this time involving the disciples of Jesus, especially Peter.
Peter has just made his memorable declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. His voice echoes the voice of God claiming Jesus as his Son, the beloved.
Jesus now tries to teach the disciples what he understands the role of the Messiah to be: a painful understanding reached through hardship in the wilderness and a great personal struggle with temptation.
Peter has not gone through this process as Jesus has. For him, and the others, it is still quite inconceivable that God’s Anointed One should suffer and die; it goes against everything they have always believed about the Messiah.
Now Peter’s voice echoes the voice of the tempter in the wilderness. Jesus once again hears that voice disguised in the voice of a friend which is perhaps much more difficult to resist.
Once again Jesus turns on the one he calls Satan who is using Peter to undermine his integrity and strength of purpose. Once again Jesus insists that it is the things of God, the divine things, that must come first, not self interest and worldly concerns.
Then Jesus has to explain to his disciples, and to us, what it will cost to follow him and to try to live like him.
Jesus says “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me”.
Especially in Lent we perhaps tend to think that “denying ourselves” is something to do with giving up things we enjoy be it wine, chocolates, music, dancing or television. Or we might even think of it as some kind of punishment for our sins.
But perhaps there’s a different way of understanding it.
We don’t know what form “Satan” took when Jesus was in the wilderness but it clearly was something Jesus recognised as being in opposition to God. In our Gospel reading it’s the voice of Peter that tries to pull Jesus away from his intended path.
Now Jesus is saying to those around him, and to us, that if we’re serious about following him we are going to have to resist our own inner voice which tries to distract us. And that won’t be easy. Our own inner demons know only too well where our particular weaknesses lie and they may have nothing to do with chocolate, wine or time wasting.
Perhaps our weaknesses lie in enjoying gossip, hearing and passing on rumours; making judgments without knowing the whole story; reacting with impatience when we’re inconvenienced in some way or breaking rules for our own advantage.
We each have our very own temptations and failures and these are what we need to deny ourselves; the things we need to recognise and bring to God asking for forgiveness, healing and the grace to begin again.
Jesus’ message is that having everything we want and having everything going our way is worthless if in achieving that we have sacrificed our integrity, our honesty and our identity as God’s beloved child in whom he is well pleased.
Similarly the message is that even if our lives in worldly terms seem lacking in achievement, possessions, or status, if we still have our integrity, are being our true selves and following what we believe to be God’s will for us then we have a life caught up in divinity and in the eternal kingdom of God.
1. Peter has declared his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.
2. Jesus tries to teach the disciples what it means for him to be the Messiah.
3. Peter echoes the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness.
4. Once again Jesus explains the cost of discipleship but also the promise of life for those who follow him on the way of the cross.
Let us pray, thanking God for his loving faithfulness and bringing to him our own concerns and the needs of the world around us.
Lord, we pray for your church during this season of Lent. We pray that all of us who believe in you will be strengthened to remain faithful to our calling; to work for understanding and unity where we have created divisions and to show your love and compassion to each other and to all your children.
Lord, we pray for the countless numbers of your children who suffer in this world because of violence, oppression and injustice. We pray for all who suffer because of flood or drought, lack of food, clean water or medical help and supplies. We pray for ourselves that we may learn to see more clearly the needs of your children and to respond to those needs for they are our brothers and sisters.
Lord, we pray for our own communities and churches. We thank you for our families and friends and pray especially for those in particular need today. We pray that your peace and love will surround them bringing them comfort and strength.
Lord, we thank you for those who have travelled before us on the way of the cross and are now at peace in your eternal presence. Help us to live in the assurance of your promise to us that this road of faith will lead into your kingdom.
Lord we thank you that you receive our prayers with grace, mercy and love. Trusting in your compassion and faithfulness we commend to you all those for whom we have prayed and commit ourselves to seeking to do your will and to bringing in your kingdom here on earth. Amen.