Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
— Mark 8:31-32
The disciples followed Jesus as they intuitively understood that he was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, come to bring God's kingdom to earth. They did not, however, understand what this really meant. We can only understand new ideas in the frame of reference we already have, and the frame of reference the disciples had for the idea of "kingdom" was, naturally enough, based on their experience of kingdom they lived within, i.e. Roman rule, and anything they may have read or heard about of other kingdoms of the world. They assumed, as did most Jews of the time, that the messiah, when he came, would come with sword to conquer their enemies in battle, and rule over them as King David had ruled. God's kingdom would be just like the kingdoms of earth except that God's chosen people would be the oppressors, no longer the oppressed. It was almost impossible to conceive of anything other than that. It took a man touched by God, a prophet, a visionary to see beyond the status quo. Jesus came to announce a very different kingdom.
On hearing him speak of this kingdom, and how it would come about the disciples became increasingly nervous. In their narrow world view it began to sound as if Jesus was crazy. This caused a dilemma. While they believed without doubt he was the Messiah, they were afraid his words would cause others not to believe. Peter essentially asks him to stop talking. I suppose Peter felt that a silent Messiah would be a more effective one, or that Jesus needed to quickly change his message if people were going to take him seriously. Peter's words are not recorded but I imagine went something like this: Master, don't rock the boat; we are on to a good thing here, don't mess it up! Jesus responds to Peter with the words, Get thee behind me, Satan,1 reprimanding him for being trapped in the ideas of man, and unable to listen to God.
Throughout Mark's gospel the disciples are shown to be eager but dense; enthusiastic for the promised change but bound up in traditional thinking; seeking faith but succumbing to fear. In other words they are like us, the reader.2 Mark's story of discipleship is our story. This gospel is continually challenging us to think differently, while recognising that just like the disciples, we are locked in our limited thought patterns, clinging to what we know. This is the great difficulty people still struggle with today: the inability to let go of old ideas, when the new one is only a vague, untried, untested—unscientific idea that really makes no sense, and couldn't be. This of course is our response these days to anything that doesn't fit in to the small body of knowledge (we think) we can be sure of. The greatest hindrance to new ideas is those that cling too tightly to the old ones. Jesus' own disciples were amongst that number. Are you?3
1 Mark 8:33
2 Disciples/Crowds/Whoever: Markan Characters and Readers by Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Novum Testamentum Vol. 28, Fasc. 2 (April, 1986), pp. 104-130
3 I offer a workshop on the Gospel of Mark, as it relates to organisational change. You can read more about it here: Scripture at Work.