A reflection on Luke 9:18-27 for Sunday, February 26, 2023 at Mosaic Baptist Church, Gungahlin.
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’
Luke 9:18-27 (NRSVA)
Today we consider the next value we are embracing at Mosaic Baptist Church: Costly Faith. In doing so, we are continuing our exploration of what it might look like to be a community who are ‘Empowering Ordinary People for God’s Extraordinary Mission’. Somehow, if it is to be God’s mission we are encouraging each other in, it will be one that, in following Jesus, is costly.
In the first encounter between Jesus and his would-be-disciples Jesus invited four ordinary fishermen to ‘Follow me’. They eagerly accepted, leaving nets, boats, and families for the privilege of engaging the vision of Jesus.
By now these men have been with Jesus for some time. They have witnessed miracles, puzzled over parables, and listened to Jesus’ every articulation of the Kingdom of God.
They are in the know.
So Jesus, in the passage above, asks what it is the masses have seen. They answer, ‘John the Baptiser, Elijah, a prophet.’ Quite a list of possibilities!
When Jesus personalises the question, however, it seems that the majority are silent. Peter, possibly playing the representative role and presenting a collective consensus, answers, “The Messiah of God.”
It is an extraordinary moment for these ordinary, mistake-laden, disciples. Finally, it seems, they have landed upon Jesus’ very identity.
After such widespread speculation, one would expect that Jesus’ warning to silence was a bit of a disappointment. Some of these surely revelled in the possibility of correcting those who made up that long line of speculation. Finally, after all this faithful following, they understand.
Jesus, however, disagrees and, without even momentarily contradicting their conclusion, begins to redefine their messianic expectations: ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
This is anything but expected. Perhaps for some time they have imagined Jesus as the ‘Messiah’. It would have conjured up images of an assembled of an army, a war expelling Rome from Jewish territory, a victory parade, the re-occupation of the palace, a rich throne room, and multiple honoured seats of power. The messiah represented Jewish freedom and independence.
So what is this talk of suffering, Jewish rejection, death and…resurrection? A strange, unexpected, path indeed.
Of course, the disciples do not even have the capacity, as yet, to imagine such things. Much less to deduce their meaning or significance. Jesus will repeat this prophecy a number of times before they even begin to interact with such outlandish claims. Even at his arrest they will be found resisting. Before this they will also be found vying for the most significant political seats.
Jesus, ever the wise and gracious teacher, responds to their bafflement with surprising gentleness and patience. Perhaps you do not see Jesus’ words in this way. After all, they ask for self-denial, the taking up of a ‘cross’, and a letting go of ‘life’.
They sound harsh, demanding and costly.
Yet, this call amounts to little more than these men have already embraced. Like any other disciples they have been asked to learn from and live the ways of their Rabbi. At the outset they did this without hesitation. Now, with Jesus talking a path through suffering and death, they seem a little less eager.
Yet, this call to ‘take up your cross’ is not new – at least not in essence. After all, it is Jesus himself who is taking this path. His disciples are still called only to ‘follow’. Jesus will go in front of them. Jesus will be the first to embrace any suffering, death, and resurrection. He remains before them.
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals a people who are counting the cost of following a self-sacrificial God. Everything is upside-down here. In a world that made sacrifices to the gods this is almost impossible to imagine. Yet it becomes for the early beliers the very foundation of a new way of service toward the world. A stance of costly love.
Make no mistake, love costs. Love is a vulnerable place to stand in a world all too prone to defend what is its own.
And yet, here is an account of God going to – no through – this loving place of suffering first. And after that to the place resurrection.
Love that costs in not an end in itself. Rather, it is a path, taken by God first, that leads to life eternal.
The invitation is simply to follow.
When have you been most aware that faith costs?
What do you think a community that embraces this cost might look like?