What I’m Thinking: Burdens

Jesus told his listeners they would need to give up their lives to follow him. So why did they follow him?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 8:31-38). Curiously, our lectionary editors have omitted the conversation that actually opens this section of the book. In it, Jesus asked his disciples who he was, and Peter, the daring one, returned with “You are the Messiah,” the Christ, the Anointed One, the Chosen One of God.

As this passage opens, Jesus proceeded to tell his disciples what Messiahship meant to him. It didn’t mean the great political and military campaign that would restore the ancient nation of Israel. Instead, it would result in rejection by the religious and political leadership of the day. It meant arrest and trial and conviction and crucifixion and death.

It also meant resurrection, but they don’t seem to have quite heard that one.

Peter, in fact, took Jesus aside to tell him that he shouldn’t be thinking such things let alone saying them aloud. Jesus rebuked Peter as harshly as he said anything to anybody in the Gospels that are recorded. “Get behind me, Satan!”

Jesus went on to summon a larger group of people and to tell them that following him meant a life of sacrifice. “Those who would follow me need to take up their cross.” “Those who would save their lives will lose them.” “Those who will lose their lives will save them.” It is the great inversion of Christianity.

It makes me wonder why any of them followed him after that. The larger crowd, the smaller circle of disciples, the daring Peter to whom Jesus spoke so harshly.

Indeed, it is a puzzle why any of us follow this message to this day, because this is a message that says discard this life in favor of one to come, a message that is startlingly impoverished. Any religion that talks about life only in terms of something beyond, a religion that has no application, no comfort, no strength in the current life, is that a religion to follow? I don’t think so.

And I also don’t think that Jesus was summoning all of us to a daily march towards martyrdom. I do think he was calling us to a life in which we are aware of and caring for those around us.

I think we are called to ask, this thing that I do: Who benefits? Is it me? Is it others? Is it only me?

I think we’re also called to ask who pays. Do I pay for what I am going to receive? Or does this place a burden upon others for my benefit? Even if I’m doing something for others, is this something that they are paying for? Is this something that places a burden on them or an obstacle in their path? Is there a way to ask their permission or have I, in fact, omitted to do any such thing?

Who benefits? Who pays?

I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus had in mind, because there are other risks in faith and in the Christian faith, and indeed we may well face them at times. But in the daily lives that we live, we are summoned to care for one another and to refrain from burdening them for our sake.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on February 22, 2021

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