Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.
Roughly midway through the season of Ordinary Time, and a week before the Fall Equinox, our lectionary series in Mark’s gospel arrives at the midpoint of the story.
The first half of the narrative began by heralding a “Way” (1:2), and closed with a question addressed to the disciples and the reader: “Do you not yet understand?” (8:21) The second half opens “on the Way” (8:27), with yet another query: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a). Do we really know who Jesus is, and what he is about?
It is a shock to discover in this Sunday’s reading that Peter’s “correct” answer (8:29b) is silenced (8:30). This issues in what I call a “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff). This sequence represent the fulcrum upon which the entire gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy, but about the Way of the cross.
This Way will be explained by three object lessons, both positive and negative. The architecture of the ensuing narrative section consists of three “portents” about Jesus’ impending arrest, which the disciples fail to comprehend, and three teaching cycles. This structure has a catechetical character, representing a “school of the road,” as Jesus and his disciples journey from the far north of Palestine to the outskirts of Jerusalem:
Geography Portent Incomprehension Teaching
1) Caesarea-Philippi 8:31 8:32f 8:34ff
2) Galilee to Judea 9:31 9:32-34 9:35ff
3) to Jerusalem 10:32-34 10:35-37 10:39ff
This catechism is neatly framed by two stories in which the blind receive sight: in Bethsaida (8:22-26) and in Jericho (10:45-52). Here we see master story telling indeed.
Since Mark’s first storm episode (4:41), the issue of Jesus’ identity has been lingering in the background; now Mark turns to address it directly (8:27). The public’s perception of Jesus parallels the three misinterpretations reported earlier concerning John (8:28; see 6:14-16). But when the disciples are asked for their opinion, Peter hails Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29).
We meet this politically-loaded term for the first time since the story’s title (1:1). Messiah was understood by many Jews in first century Palestine to be a royal figure who would someday restore the political fortunes of Israel. Based upon Mark’s title and the centrality of this confession in the church, we are likely to approve of Peter’s identification. But to our chagrin, Peter is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if he were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)!
Since this lection has already come up this year (on the Second Sunday in Lent), I refer to my comments there concerning the crisis of expectation that punctuates Jesus’ exchange with Peter, and the meaning of his teaching on denial and the “Coming of the Human One.”