Saturday, September 15, 2012

Misunderestimating Jesus



Misunderestimating Jesus
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
16 September 2012

Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”
  They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”
  And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”
 And He warned them to tell no one about Him.
 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
  36   “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
  37   “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
  38   “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

One of the key themes of this gospel reading is a failure to communicate. 

Miscommunication and misunderstanding play a key role in understanding this encounter with Jesus and his disciples. He has to correct their assumptions about his identity, and then his role, and then his purpose. His disciples seem no further clued in at the end of this encounter than at the beginning. It would take witnessing the crucifixion and the resurrection for these truths to sink in. sometimes people read this encounter, and they are confused. Was Jesus really not into telling people he was the Christ? Why did he warn his followers to explicitly NOT tell anyone this major truth? This is the idea behind the musical Jesus Christ Superstar (and I won’t sing it): “If you’d come today you would have ruled the whole nation; Israel in 4BC had no mass communication.” In other words, Jesus needed better marketing spin and product placement. No, that’s not the reason, and Jesus doesn’t need our marketing help. Because so many people had the concept that the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, would be a military priest, a combination of Rambo and Moses, any mention of this before the cross would have caused a riot. Riots start pretty easy in the Middle East, and Jesus wisely calms down that expectation. Only after his death on a cross and his resurrection can the message be told. Even then, it caused some problems. 

Miscommunications plague this encounter. Misunderstandings. Who do people say I am? Well, some people think this, some that. What about you….we’ll, you’re the Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 16, we see Peter gets the keys after this good confession. In Mark’s gospel, he gets called Satan after that, because Jesus starts talking about the Christ and a cross, and Peter definitely did not get the memo….and Peter starts to rebuke him….
Wow, talk about misunderstanding, miscommunication….

Reminds me of that Baptist guy who had a gambling problem…
Mitch, a hard-shell Southern Baptist, loved to sneak away to the race track. One day he was there betting on the ponies and nearly losing his shirt when he noticed this priest who stepped out onto the track and blessed the forehead of one of the horses lining up for the 4th race. Lo and behold, this horse - a very long shot - won the race.
Mitch was most interested to see what the priest did the next race. Sure enough, he watched the priest step out onto the track as the 5th race horses lined up, and placed this blessing on the forehead of one of the horses. Mitch made a beeline for the window and placed a small bet on the horse. Again, even though another long shot, the horse the priest had blessed won the race. Mitch collected his winning and anxiously waited to see which horse the priest bestowed his blessing on for the 6th race.
The priest showed, blessed a horse, Mitch bet on it, and it won! Mitch was elated! As the day went on, the priest continued blessing one of the horses, and it always came in first. Mitch began to pull in some serious money, and by the last race, he knew his wildest dreams were going to come true. He made a quick stop at the ATM, withdrew big money and awaited the priest's blessing that would tell him which horse to bet on.
True to his pattern, the priest stepped out onto the track before the last race and blessed the forehead, eyes, ears and hooves of one of the horses. Mitchell bet every cent, and watched the horse come in dead last. Mitchell was dumbfounded. He made his way to the track and when he found the priest, he demanded, "What happened, Father? All day you blessed horses and they won. The last race, you blessed a horse and he lost. Now I've lost my savings, thanks to you!!"
The priest nodded wisely and said, "That's the problem with you Protestants... you can't tell the difference between a simple blessing and the last Rites." 

Miscommunication: it’s costly….

In the Mark’s gospel, we have two problems with the disciples, and that’s why I call this homily “Misunderestimating Jesus.” You remember that our former President, George W. Bush, had a funny habit of conflating words together, and this one was one of his favorite. I used to think that was a sing of a deficient intellect, but now, I think it’s the sign of Jesus.

I learned that one Sunday 4 years ago, when I was reading the 2nd reading as a Lector at Our Lady of the Pines. Reading from the New American Bible, the version we use at all our masses, I read, or tried to read, Hebrews 10:23, where the writer urges us to “hold unwaveringly to our faith, for he who promised is faithful.” Unfortunately, I has some serious sector seek issues with my brain and tongue, because in my mind I recognized a favorite verse, one I had memorized, from the New International Version, a bible version I had preached for well nigh 12 years. In that version, the writer urges us, not to hold unwaveringly, but he said, “let us hold unswervingly to our faith.” And those of you who were there at that 8am mass know that I, Deacon Rick Bauer, created an ecumenical moment worthy of our former President when I got up there and read, not unwaveringly, not unswervingly, but unswaveringly—a brand new word. Unswaveringly—it really should be a word, right—not wavering, and not swerving—it’s gonna be a word someday!

Well, misunderestimating is the right word for this gospel, too.

A conflation of misunderstanding, and underestimating…and that’s what his disciples do, and that’s what we do.

They misunderstood what being the Messiah mean for Christ. They thought it was parades and being the chosen people and whoopin’ up on the Romans, but Jesus said this meant a cross of suffering, it mean rejection, it meant loneliness (just like the first reading this morning). And it would mean the same to his followers. 

The also underestimated what being a follower of Christ meant. In v 34-35:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

The price of discipleship will always include a cross. Jesus speaks clearly so that we cannot misunderstand this—anyone, must, take up a cross, whoever, whoever, lose life, save life. You have to be a theologian to misunderestimate this!

And people back then understood something we don’t today. Crosses back then were made for only one thing—they were meant for dying.

Rob Frazier, a contemporary Christian artist wrote a song titled, "He doesn’t want you better, He wants you deader" I love the lines here…

Dead people don’t mind the pain, Don’t get offended so they never complain

They’re not concerned about personal gain, Does that sound like me or you?
The truth is rising from the mist And the word is this;
That when Jesus calls a man He calls him to come and die!
He doesn’t want you better, He wants you deader.

The mark of a saint is not perfection, but consecration. A saint is not a person without faults, but a person who has given himself without reservation to Christ...As we close, there’s a remedy for misunderestimating Jesus. We have to Understand him, and we have to change our estimate of the cost. We understand him through his Word, and so we have to feed on that word, study it every day, make it a part of our lives. We have to discover again that the price of discipleship has not been discounted by Ben Bernanke, that Moody’s has not dropped the credit rating for selling all you have, and living a sold-out life. The price is high, it’s intrusive—Jesus seems to want to own every area of our life—it costs you everything you have. But the gospel today is that all of us can afford that price. Salvation is free, ... but discipleship will cost you your life. A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing. No discount, no frequent mass-flier affinity programs, no group rates—he wants us to perfectly understand the price, the cost, and not misunderstand, or underestimate, or misunderestimate.

May God bless us we wrestle with the implications of a Christ with a cross with our name on it.

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