There’s a story in Mark’s gospel of Jesus telling the disciples about what’s going to happen to him. He says that he’s going to have to suffer, that he’ll be rejected by the elders and all the temple authorities and that they’ll kill him. And then he’ll rise again after three days. Basically what we already know is going to happen because we know the story.
But the disciples don’t, so you can imagine that they’d be a little perturbed that this person they think is the promised Messiah is telling them this. They might also be thinking “I gave up everything for this and you’re telling me this is where it’s headed?”
So Peter jumps in and takes Jesus aside. He tells him not to say stuff like that. You can guess what he’d say: it’s demoralizing for the disciples, it’s not going to win them any supporters and, hey, hang on, don’t we want to get the support of the religious authorities? Use some tact, Jesus. You need to work on your PR.
That’s when Jesus says it. “Get behind me, satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
Classic Jesus. Always trying to pull Satan onside.
I can’t speak for Jesus. But I can speak for the Jesus in me and I wonder, what if we didn’t read this as Jesus telling the devil to get out of the way? What if, instead, we could read it as Jesus calling the satan (literally, the word means the tester or questioner – we co-opted it to mean something else) to get onside and back him up: “stop testing me and support me!” What if we heard Jesus then tell Peter (the tester) to start thinking differently. Open your mind to what’s really true, Peter, what’s really important in life and stop thinking the way human beings usually do. Think beyond your personal comfort, think beyond the stuff, the power and the certainty that comes with control of things. Open your mind and your heart to what life really is about. Otherwise, you won’t understand this next bit: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).
This isn’t about winning and losing as we understand it. We think we win by being first. We frame it with competition and being better than others. It’s based on who can be best, whether that’s in ability or wealth or power. We often see life as a need to acquire those things.
But that’s not life, says Jesus. So lose it. Not just the stuff, the attitude. Lose that, and live for the love and truth that’s at the heart of it. Because that’s you. First, don’t rank yourself by comparison to others. And second, you aren’t the stuff and the more you try to save that, the more you lose the real you and the possibility of what you can do and share with others. Lose the stuff and focus on the love, lose the competition and share instead, then you will be truly alive.
I am about love, compassion and wholeness, says Jesus, that’s the message of the gospel. That’s life-giving. Go ahead and test that. You’ll want to get behind it.
Again, I can’t speak for Jesus, but the Jesus in me says that he isn’t asking you to change the world. Just you. And not so much change you as find you, by letting go of the distractions, temptations and unnecessary baggage of the world. Find you. Then go and feed one hungry person. Hold one hurting person. Make the life of a single child more important than the ability to kill many. I don’t think Jesus was asking a crowd, I think he meant each and every one, individually and personally. Don’t wait for someone else and don’t stop, even if you’re the only one. You, let go this way of living and be the love and truth that is you. That’s real life.