Mark 8:31-38 & Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
There is a story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief’s forehead with the letters “ST” which stood for sheep thief. As a result of this, one brother left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place indelibly marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and neighbor to the townspeople. He lived out his life in the village — an old man loved by all.
One day a stranger came to town and inquired about the “ST” on the old man’s forehead. “I’m not sure what it means,” another told him. “It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint.” Learning how to see things differently; maybe the way God sees things!
Off the coast of the Island Mauritius, over the peninsula called Le Morne Brabant in the Indian Ocean is what has been called an underwater waterfall. It is not an underwater waterfall, but an optical allusion that can be seen from the air. It is trails of sand and silt deposits on the seafloor being washed by currents over the edge of an ocean shelf. At first glance, however, it appears like a spot where the ocean is dropping off a cliff and flowing down a huge sink hole or drain.
I mention it because sometimes what we think we see is not what actually is. Optical allusions can fool us. They can play games with our minds. Sometimes our world view, in the same way can fool us into thinking we see clearly when we are actually being mislead or fooled. Our world view is our way of looking at reality. That is what happens in our readings for the Second Sunday in Lent.
Jesus tells Peter, you are not aligned with God’s way of thinking! God, through the prophet Isaiah says the same thing, Isaiah 55:8-9 (GNT)
8 “My thoughts,” says the LORD, “are not like yours,
and My ways are different from yours.
9 As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are My ways and thoughts above yours.
Abraham and Sarah had to learn that God’s ways and timing do not always match our human thinking and time frame!
Peter has just confessed Jesus as being Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And, now, Jesus, speaks plainly about what will soon be taking place in Jerusalem—He will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders there, be rejected as Messiah and then be killed. Three days later He will rise again, alive from the grave.
Peter reacts to the idea of Jesus’ suffering and death. So he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Him. We can almost fill in the words for Peter.
“Stop talking nonsense! You’re not going to suffer and die. Don’t be foolish! You are the Messiah, Israel’s long promised king!”
That is when Jesus stops Peter, turns to the disciples who are there and who agree with their spokes person Peter.
“If anyone wants to follow Me, they will deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me.”
Living a life for others (and not just to protect ourselves) is more in line with God’s values.
Mark’s recording of his Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “it is necessary,” the Greek word is “dei.” Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, His being rejected and killed by the religious establishment and government authorities is the core piece of the plan of our salvation. Jesus is going to the cross, bearing our sins on His shoulders as the “lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes in his Gulag Archipelago, where he described life in a Siberian prison. At one point he was so physically weak and discouraged that all he could hope for was death. The hard labor, terrible conditions, and inhumane treatment had taken its toll.
He knew the guards would beat him severely and probably kill him if he stopped working. So, he planned to help them by simply stopping his work and leaning on his shovel. But when he stopped, a fellow Christian reached over with his shovel and quickly drew a sign of the cross at the feet of Solzhenitsyn then erased it before a guard could see it.
Solzhenitsyn later wrote that his entire being was energized by that little reminder of the hope and courage we find in Christ through the cross. It was a turning point. Through the cross and a fellow believer, he found the strength and the hope to continue.
Seeing ourselves and our world through God’s eyes, through the perspective of the cross can give us the encouragement and strength we need to keep on keeping on, to keep going when we feel like giving up. Through the cross God turns death into life, despair into hope, shame and guilt into forgiveness. He gives us light in our darkness, love that is more powerful than any hate and evil this world can throw at us.
So, my fellow believers, don’t give up. Lift up your eyes and fix your gaze on Jesus and His cross. Let that view from the cross give you clear vision and a strong faith in God’s redeeming love.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.