s055g^96 Somerton Park 1/9/96 Sunday 22 Pentecost 14
"Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and ... be killed ... Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it Lord! ..."
One of the things one learns in the defence forces as a person of rank is that a superior ranking person does not berate a junior ranking person in front of others more junior to the junior ranking person. So an officer would not berate a sergeant in front of his or her corporals and privates. The officer would take the sergeant aside. So Peter takes Jesus aside, wanting not to publicly disapprove of Jesus' campaign of action, lest it rob Jesus of some of his authority in the eyes of his other followers.
D.E.Nineham, in his commentary on St Mark's gospel notes (page 74) that "St Mark was well aware how vital a part teaching played in the ministry (of Jesus, yet) why does he devote so little of his Gospel to the contents of the teaching?" He identifies only three passages of teaching: chapter 4.1-34 (the parable of the ground on which the seed falls and related matters), chapter 7.1-23 (what defiles a man) and chapter 13.2-37 (the coming tribulations and simply the need to watch (page 125).
He also notes that St Paul "very seldom refers to Christ's earthly teaching, even when discussing questions of practical conduct" (page 74 note). It is somewhat ironic that on one occasion when he does, it is not testified in the gospel accounts.
In Acts (20.35) St Paul quotes the "Lord Jesus, for he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"". It is nowhere recorded that he in fact said this.
I want to suggest that this points to the possibility that instituting a new form of teaching was not central to the mission of Jesus - the primary thrust of Jesus mission was the Cross.
While this conclusion would well be debated by some, it would be argued by few that Jesus came to alleviate the political frustrations of his own people, as God had done through Moses in ancient times. It was clear that he shied away from any attempt to may him king or any form of revolutionary.
Again people may well argue about this, but from my reading of the gospels, while healing formed an important element of the ministry of Jesus, again, it was not him primary aim. Had he wanted to have a successful healing ministry, he surely would have not spent so much time trying to stop people telling others about the healing they had received.
I think what I am pointing to is the fact that Jesus came essentially empty-handed to humanity. God had come to visit his people but had brought no boon with him.
The Cross to which Jesus points Peter and the disciples in the gospel reading for today is the ultimate expression of this. The Cross is the sign that God had and has nothing more for humanity. It was Peter who realised this and expresses indignation we ourselves feel when confronted with it. God was and is not going to act and do something else so that "they all lived happily ever after".
The characteristic of Jesus' ministry was that he travelled throughout the land and accepted the hospitality of those who welcomed him. He went throughout the land, not proclaiming himself as a new teacher recruiting disciples, a politician wanting to start a new party, or even a great healer doing great good. He went empty handed and accepted what people offered.
In accepting what people offered - he honoured them. He sought no honour for himself what so ever. His total focus was on seeking out all people, meeting them, accepting what they had to offer and by doing so, saying that they had a part to play in God's kingdom.
Peter wanted not to rob Jesus of the authority he thought he should be exercising, so he takes him aside privately and rebukes him. But everything which ascribes authority to Jesus above that of everyday humanity, is to diminish that humanity which Jesus came to magnify.
Jesus indeed came empty-handed. There was no boon except his love and acceptance of each and every one. His death shows that even the dead were not exempt.
It is of course no accident that Jesus immediately spoke of how others might follow him (verse 24) "If anyone want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me".
So the message for the Church is to deny ourselves. The good things we do in education, in political action and in care for the sick, flow not from being authorities in these matters, but by seeking to upbuild others by accepting their offerings.
If we want to be followers of Jesus we have to follow him. I am sorry that it is a tautology but they are the words of scripture. We are called to do as Jesus did.
We don't have to go to foreign lands or even the lower socioeconomic areas of this state. In amongst those with whom we live and work, we are called to seek out and accept what others want to offer us.
And we are to "take up our cross". We are to take up that ultimate symbol that we have nothing to give but our acceptance of the offerings that other wish to give us.
We all readily acknowledge, like St Paul (2 Corinthians 4.7), we are indeed earthen vessels which contain this treasure. It is good news that we don't need to be anything more or anything different. God accepts us as we offer ourselves to him, and he accepts others as they offer to him their offerings.
The ultimate education is that each and every individual is sacred in God's eyes, the ultimate political statement is that each and every individual is sacred in God's eyes, and the ultimate healing is that each and every individual is sacred in God's eyes - so sacred that God sends Jesus to die for us. That is the treasure and the message.
We most accurately follow Jesus when empty handed, we seek out people to enable them to feel that they have a contribution that others will value and accept.
Of course this is to flow on. We don't magnify those we meet, that they may lord it over others. We magnify others so that they have no need or desire to lord it over other people. The task therefore is hardly trivial - it is urgent.
There are of course many ways of avoiding doing this and still sounding as if we are religious people. One of the easiest is to spend our lives telling others how great Jesus is - how he can bring life in all its fullness to individuals and communities.
I have no doubt what so ever that he can and does, but it will not be as we proclaim that he can and does. It will be when we as the Church, following Jesus, seek out individuals and communities, empty handed, seeking to accept the contribution they wish to make.
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