“For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Mark 8:33
There is a palpable sense of injustice being felt at the Government’s enforcement of the Covid restrictions. How can people be allowed to travel through England and into Europe to play rugby and football, while an ordinary person is prohibited from travelling to see an elderly loved one whom they may not have many more opportunities to see? How can the big stores that sell a wide range of goods, including an extensive range of non-essential items, be allowed to continue to trade as normal, while small independent retailers who are deemed non-essential must keep their doors firmly closed? There is anger and disillusionment and frustration.
Today’s Gospel reading, from Saint Mark Chapter 8 Verses 31-38 offers insights into coping with the injustices of lockdown.
Jesus is plain speaking about the most profound of injustices, the treatment that he must endure from those who are angry at being confronted with the truth about themselves. Verse 31 says, “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.”
It would have seemed extraordinary to his disciples that Jesus would make such a claim. They were faithful members of their community, they went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, they said their prayers, the observed the Law. Why would their leadership act unjustly? Why would they be unfair in the treatment of the members of their community? Why would they commit the ultimate injustice of killing Jesus for speaking the truth?
Peter is obviously alarmed at what he regards as alarmist talk and he tries to get Jesus to stop saying such things. Jesus responds in language that seems very harsh. “Get behind me, Satan!” he declares in Verse 33. Poor Peter, who would have believed that he was speaking wisely and out of love for Jesus would have been astonished at receiving such a severe rebuke. He would have been hurt at the suggestion that what he thought were words of concern were considered to be the voice of the Adversary.
Jesus seems to qualify his comment in the words that follow. He says to Peter, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” It has changed from being a conflict between Jesus and the powers and principalities of darkness, it has changed from being a battle with Satanic influence, to being a question of Peter offering a human response to the idea that violence and death are the inevitable future that must be faced. Peter is thinking about things in human terms, he is not seeing the bigger picture.
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things,” seems a way of coping for Christians who are facing a sense of lockdown injustice. Faced with the inability to change the situation, faced with authorities who are impervious to accusations of unfairness and inconsistency, there are two responses that can be made: one is anger, the other is to try to have a sense of a bigger picture.
There must be many. many households where the hope of the world to come is all that is left to sustain people who have watched loved ones die and who have had no opportunity to express their grief. When multi-millionaire footballers and their club staff criss-cross the country, it must be galling to feel that there are old people who have not been permitted to talk to loved ones for weeks or months, that there are loved ones who are not even permitted to travel so that they may talk through a window.
How can there not be a sense of anger when profit comes before humanity?
Jesus points Peter to a reality beyond the injustice. Whatever outrage Peter and the disciples might feel at the way that Jesus would be treated, Jesus wants them to realize that injustice is not the last word, that he will defeat whatever lies ahead.
Whatever the present circumstances, however inequitable the lockdown rules may seem, for Christians there will always be the hope of what lies beyond these times.