One of the commentators suggests that the Gospel of Mark is best understood as having the following parts.
- Mark 1:1-6:6a - Throughout Galilee Jesus Proclaims the Imminence of God’s Reign in Powerful Words and Deeds
- Mark 6:6b-8:21- Jesus Extends His Ministry to Jews and Gentiles Beyond Galilee
- Mark 8:22-10:52- Jesus Begins His Journey to Jerusalem Where as the Son of Man He Will Give His Life as a Ransom for Many
- Mark 11:1-13:37- The Messianic Actions and Teaching of Jesus in Jerusalem
- Mark 14:1-16.8- The Suffering, Death, Resurrection of the Son of Man in Jerusalem
Our passage is in the third section, essentially the center of the gospel. This section is framed by two giving of sight stories (Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 10:46-52). Three predictions of Jesus passion occur in the midst of this section as well (Mark 8:31; 9:30-31; 10:1, 32).
So our text for this week, Mark 8:31-9:1, contains the first prediction of the passion (Mark 8:31-33) and a teaching about discipleship (Mark 8:34-9:1).
Remember the Gospel of Mark is written from a post resurrection perspective. It is not an eyewitness account and is not a newspaper report about what is happening prior to Jesus arriving in Jerusalem. It certainly contains historical reflections from the time of the events. It also contains Mark’s understanding of who Jesus Christ, the Son of God was (Mark 8:31). It comes as some have said as a “gospel in miniature.” It claims that Jesus will suffer and be vindicated.
All of this is provoked by Peter’s answer to the question Jesus raises regarding what is being said about who Jesus is. Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus in turn rebukes Peter. Then the “crowd” enters (Mark 8:34) seemingly out of the blue since Jesus was speaking only to the disciples. So you have the disciples and the crowd receiving the extended teaching about discipleship.
The center of discipleship is characterized as denying oneself even in the face of death. So giving up one’s life saves one’s life. Discipleship consists of being prepared to shift one’s center of gravity. Think about a box of small marbles made up of different materials, for example a lighter material like chalk as opposed to heavier material like steel. As you shake the box the marbles will come to rest in different points depending on the distribution of the heavier and lighter marbles. The center of gravity of the box will shift as the heavier ones fall to one side or another. Regarding discipleship Jesus suggests that the shift comes about in saying NO to the self and saying YES to God. Today we need the marbles that will move us to be able to shift our center of gravity toward God.
Discipleship had become a grim reminder to Christians and the church after Jesus passion. As one commentator said, “Jesus’ words were a sober caution that the commitment for which he asked permitted no turning back, and if necessary, a willingness to submit to the cross in pursuance of the will of God.” This shift of the center of gravity for each of us in the 21st century cannot be taken lightly. We will need to set our minds and hearts on divine things not on human things.
What we are told in this passage in Mark is that Christ provides the example of self denial. In order to get our center of gravity shifted we must follow him even unto death. Paradoxically losing our life for God’s will enables us to gain life. The urgency in Mark of our saying YES to God reflects the expectation in early Christianity that the return of Jesus was imminent. The urgency in the 21st century is for each of us to answer the question Jesus asks, and is implied in our text, “Who do you say that I am?”