Sunday thoughts for 16th September 2018
“You are the Messiah” Mark 8:29
The five “W’s”, where, who, why, what and when, help thoughts about today’s Gospel reading.
“Where” is straightforward, Verse 27 tells us, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.” The place name had a meaning for the disciples that can easily be missed. At one time it had been called “Paneas”, named after the pagan god “Pan”, but had been renamed Caesarea in honour of the Roman emperor, who was regarded as a god by Roman people, Philippi being added by Philip, son of Herod the Great, who was Jewish ruler of the region. The place where Jesus and his disciples had arrived was a place whose name asked about who was regarded as divine.
The “where” of the reading asks us questions about attitudes to the things worshipped by people. Caesarea Philippi had derived its original name from paganism and had been renamed in honour personality cults; times have not changed so much. Old superstition and personality cults still continue. “Where?” asks about beliefs in the Twenty-First Century
“Who?” is a question Jesus himself twice asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer him, in Verse 28, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Then in Verse 29 Jesus turns the question to the disciples themselves, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gives a direct response, “You are the Messiah.” The disciples have travelled far and seen much with Jesus and have had much time to think about the “who?” question.
“Who?” asks who shapes decisions at home, at our work, in our leisure time,
Why does Jesus want the disciples to be clear about their decision? Because faith in him as the Messiah was going to bring challenge and danger. Verse 31 tells us, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter should have understood why Jesus was giving them this warning, he should have realized that Jesus could not have made the claims he was making without arousing opposition, but Peter does not want to see why, in Verse 32 we read, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Even more forcibly, Jesus makes it clear why people should be clear in their decision, declaring in Verses 34-35, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Why did the disciples have to decide? Because following Jesus was the way to life. Why must there be a decision? Because it demands a great commitment.
The question “what?” is asked twice by Jesus, in Verses 36-37, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” The disciples would known the answer to the question, there is no profit in having everything and losing one’s very self, there is nothing one can give in exchange for oneself, but they needed to be sure about those answers because they would one day have to answer the questions in a way that would demand their lives.
What is the point of spending life earning as much as possible, having as much as possible, buying as much as possible, if in doing so we lose ourselves?
“When?”is the final question. “When” is an assurance to the disciples that their faith in Jesus is leading somewhere, and that those who reject him will experience a day of reckoning. In Verse 38, Jesus says, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The word “when” is a declaration that there will be a moment when all that Jesus has said and done will become meaningful.
“When” is important. It says that this time matters, that this life matters, that people matter. “When” is a statement of confidence that there is sense in it all
Where, who, why, what and when: five W’s to help thoughts about that moment at Caesarea Philippi, five W’s to help thoughts now.
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