Are you on the path to becoming a fully alive human being like Jesus was?
by Carl Gregg
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:31-38
For Sunday, March 4, 2012: Year B — Lent 2
The verses preceding this Gospel lesson are a climax in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.” Rather than commending Peter, Jesus prohibits them from speaking about him (perhaps because they misunderstood him).
“Christ” Is Not Jesus’ Last Name
In our opening verse, Jesus does not echo Peter’s word “Messiah,” but instead refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” The Hebrew word mashiach (literally “anointed one”) is transliterated into English as messiah. It was translated into Greek as christos, which was transliterated into English as “Christ.” So, messiah = anointed one = Christ.
Thus, at one level, anyone who has been ritually anointed is a messiah. To name only a few examples, in Leviticus 4:3, we read about the “anointed priest” or “messianic priest.” In 1 Samuel 24:7 and 2 Samuel 1:14, Saul and David respectively are called “the Lord’s anointed” or “the Lord’s messiah.” In Isaiah 45:1, the foreign King Cyrus of Persia (modern Iran!) is even called a “messiah” or “anointed one” for ending the Babylonian Captivity.
How is it that have we misunderstood the term messiah? And why do many Christians almost exclusively emphasize Jesus Christ, neglecting a title Jesus repeatedly calls himself: “Son of Man?”
“Son of Man” or “Human One?”
The Common English Bible recently made headlines for its decision to translate “Son of Man” as “Human One.” If the disciples did not at first “get” who Jesus was, perhaps we can get clarity from later writers such as the early church father Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive!” We could accordingly hear the “Human One” as Jesus saying, “I am a human who is fully alive.
Why then would Jesus accuse Peter of “setting your mind not on divine things but on human things?” Peter wants to protect Jesus from the messiness and risk that is essential to the human condition. Jesus rebukes Peter for “merely human” beliefs, whereas we are called to a God-infused, grace-filled abundant life.
A Hermeneutical Key: The Parable of the Sower
In Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Ched Myers notes that this passage can be seen as a recapitulation of the Parable of the Sower from Mark 4 (244-245). When Jesus calls Peter, “Satan,” there is an echo of Jesus’ words that, “These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.” Peter is like the ones on the path who speak too quickly, thinking they have immediate understanding, when they do not.
Do You Have Ears to Hear the Other Parabolic Echos?
Take up your cross. “These are the ones sown on rocky ground: …they have no root…when trouble or persecution arises…immediately they fall away.”
“What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” “Others are those sown among the thorns: … the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
Thankfully, the parable’s ending is hopeful: “the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word…and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
The Hardest Question
We must discern how God is cultivating us to become the good soil. We must attune our ears to hear Jesus’ title for himself as the “Human One.” How is God calling you to become a fully alive human being like Jesus was?
Carl Gregg is a New York Times-reading, vegetarian-eating Progressive Christian, who also loves Centering Prayer, Ultimate Frisbee, and praying-by-biking-to-work. Carl has been the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland since July 2010. He is a trained spiritual director, and will graduate with a Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary in early 2012. He is currently transforming his dissertation into a popularized form for publication. Carl lives with his wife Magin LaSov Gregg, who is a Lecturer in English at Bowie State University. They have three cats and two dogs.