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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Turning points, (or in the current socio-political jargon "tipping points") come when we encounter God’s unconventional wisdom inviting us to risk for the gospel’s sake. Jesus’ disciples discover a Messiah who risks suffering and practices self-sacrifice for the well-being of all people. Wisdom calls us to turn and follow unexpected paths. Will we venture to live by such risky wisdom, trusting and hoping in God’s presence? Mark 8:27–38 Jesus questions the disciples about his identity. The conversation leads to Peter’s confession of “You are the Messiah.” (Messiah means anointed one.) The gospel of Mark now takes a dramatic turn. Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee, which wanders with no seeming destination, suddenly aims toward Jerusalem. Jesus’ own answer to his question follows in this first of three unconventional teachings in Mark concerning a Messiah who suffers. Popular messianic hopes of that day awaited a militant figure who would bring deliverance to the nation and freedom from Rome. Factions such as the Zealots simply took that notion to the extreme in their conviction that armed rebellion and violence would hasten Messiah’s coming. If suffering came, conventional wisdom said, Messiah would inflict it upon the enemy. Jesus turns that wisdom upside down. Using a term from the prophets that was not compromised by such assumptions, Jesus teaches that the “Son of Man” will suffer, be rejected, and die. This clash of wisdoms comes to a head as Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus then rebukes Peter. The text portrays this exchange as a teaching moment; Jesus confronts Peter for the sake of community (“turning and looking at the disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter”). This turning point hinges on whose wisdom will be followed. Jesus’ teaching is clear – the identity of Jesus shapes the identity of the community who follows him. It is God’s wisdom that calls the disciples, and us, to take risks in serving on behalf of the well-being of all people. Jesus names two key aspects of that following in phrases that have a history of misunderstanding and abuse: “self-denial” and “taking up one’s cross.” In far too many times and ways, these words have been used to bludgeon individuals and groups already vulnerable, already “denied.” Or they have been trivialized and marginalized (self-denial as giving up chocolate for Lent, or taking up one’s cross as putting up with some minor irritation). Self-denial may be more vitally understood, as with the taking up of one’s cross, as embodying the community Jesus seeks to fashion. Self-hatred does not promote community, but living in response to and respect of one’s neighbor does. The community who follows this Messiah will risk its own individual and group agendas for the sake of following Jesus. Like Simon in Mark 15:21, we help bear Jesus’ cross where he cannot do so alone. Proverbs 1:20–33 depicts a personified Wisdom inviting individuals to follow in its way. The risks of folly are expressed in life and death terms. Psalm 19 celebrates the wisdom of God witnessed to in creation and Torah. Wisdom 7:26—8:1 provides a philosophical outlook on the gift and beauty of wisdom. The wisdom teaching of James 3:1–12 speaks of the power of the tongue for ill or good. The risk associated here with the responsibility of teaching finds illustration in Peter’s attempt to “teach” Jesus in the focus passage. Turning points still come to us when we encounter the voice of God’s wisdom. Who do you say Jesus is: in your words, in the conduct of your life? What are you willing to risk giving up – or taking on – in order to follow Jesus in a life of serving?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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