When the church talks about people being “transformed” by the gospel, the change envisioned is one that, I wager, has to do with this business of carrying a cross. Faith as given by the one who was crucified, died, buried, risen, and ascended is not a safe and comfortable sofa but a bed of turmoil over how best to live.
One’s cross might be the very questions that compel us to a life of steadfast and difficult love for our neighbors. One’s cross might be physical pain and suffering. It could be an insurmountable family relationship. Whatever the crosses we bear or might “take up,” we can be assured that Jesus calls us to take them seriously, to see them as sacred and honorable, and to know we are not alone in this world.
Mark’s Gospel gives us that poignant scene of mutual rebuking between Jesus and Peter that sets the stage for the command to lose our lives to save them. We might see ourselves in Peter’s shoes.
This passage is both dramatically and structurally the center of Mark's gospel; we are halfway through the story and we are at the story's climax, too. When Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” traditional exegesis suggests that this is a rhetorical question—he knows the answer and is checking up on his students. Since we have just seen Jesus learn from the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, I'm not sure that he's not trying to keep learning here. Peter's answer is surely the best answer, but it may not be the full answer. (God has told Jesus that he's Son of God and will say so again in chapter 9.)
. . . Here [Peter] seems to get it but then as soon as Jesus predicts his own passion Peter quickly backs off.
In part Peter is no doubt appropriately concerned for Jesus. But in part we suspect that Peter is concerned for Peter. He knows full well what the consequence of Jesus' martyrdom will be for him, and Jesus picks it up immediately: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”(8:34).
I know why the NRSV places this in the plural, to avoid any sense that it's a word for males only, but this is one of those places where the singular does make a difference. Each of us chooses individually for or against the cross; nobody else can do it for us. In a day where churches seem to be increasingly enthralled by the prosperity gospel, we are taken aback by the “austerity” gospel, the sacrifice gospel. Oh, yes, we remember now—the cross. – David Bartlett
The Revised Common Lectionary gives us as complementary to the Gospel story, the prophet’s song of the suffering servant, showing us that throughout the centuries, the one who hears the word of God does not avoid hardship.
Some have thought that the prophet referred to Israel as God's servant in these songs; some have thought that the prophet refers to himself. Christian exegesis from very early on has seen . . . a foreshadowing of Jesus' own ministry and passion. What is clear in our passage is that the servant does great good and suffers great wrong, and that the doing and the suffering are inextricably intertwined.
The whole passage reminds us that sometimes good news simply raises opposition. It seems odd that words that sustain the weary can annoy the powerful—yet we all can bear testimony that it is true. The servant's ability to keep on learning, teaching, and comforting, rests on one assurance—that God is his helper. – David Bartlett
. . . James uses a number of analogies from nature to give us a warning about human nature. The horse's small bit yet rules the horse, a ship's rudder the ship. . . .
There is a particularly sharp—and more theological—reminder in 3:9. “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” . . . For James those who bless God with their tongue and curse their brothers and sisters with the same tongue are hypocrites. – David Bartlett
For this Sunday, as we approach All Saints Day and the celebration of the Reign of Christ, we contemplate our gratitude for all the saints who have led the way and given us a faith to share with them and gratitude for the one who reigns over all creation.
David Bartlett, an ordained American Baptist minister, is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Homily Service 39, no.10 (2006): 24-34.