Last year, the United Methodist clergy in our Annual Conference gathered for our yearly session with our Bishop. Our guest teacher was Paul Jeffrey, the United Methodist missionary assigned to photographer and interpret our missions around the world to the larger church. You have seen many of Paul’s photos in our mission magazines. Paul showed us the difference that choosing lens makes. Those of you who are amateur photographers already know this. You use one lens for a wide shot, another for a distance shot, and another for a portrait. You choose your lens to tell the story that you want to tell. The reverse is also true. The lens that you use determines what you see and what you don’t see. You can see a great distance with little detail, or you can see a small object magnified many times. You can see a crowd of people, or the emotion on one face. It’s the same in our lives. Our eyes are incredibly sensitive lens that are adjusted by our mindset.
In the gospel reading today, Jesus is checking to see what lens his disciples are using. He is teaching them, and us, how to use the lens of discipleship. Jesus begins by engaging his followers in a question about his identity—through what lens is he seen by the people on the street. “Who do people say that I am?” They answer: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Jesus says, “Yes, but who do you say that I am (What lens are you using)?” Peter sees part of the truth, “You are the Messiah.” But Jesus silences him—the Messiah is a powerful lens and not one that Jesus chooses to use. Jesus will refer to himself as the Son of Man, a much softer lens. Messiah is a pre-loaded acclamation that came with an expectation—save me, save us. Son of Man says I am like you—I am one of you.
Peter got the answer half right. He is the first in Mark’s gospel to name Jesus as Messiah. But Peter did not see clearly. He was using too wide a lens. In Peter’s world, Messiah meant king and deliverer of the Jews. Moses had been a deliverer, but he wasn’t king. David came the closest; he delivered the Jews from the Philistines when he conked Goliath smack in the forehead and he eventually became king. Picture King David and all the expectations that came with the mighty warrior, deliverer king and you have an idea about what Peter meant when he declared that Jesus was the Messiah. There were a number of people in Jesus’ time who claimed the title Messiah, modeled on the legacy of King David. That’s why, instead of patting Peter on the back, Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone. Their vision was blurred. They were expecting glory, victory, and freedom. Jesus had to sit them down and explain to them that his path was going to lead to suffering, rejection, and death.
He understood his mission as restorer of souls and reconciler to God. He spoke forgiveness to just about everybody who crossed his path. In fact, he made sure that his path led to folks who needed to feel a touch of compassion and hear a word of forgiveness. He embraced the notion of being a deliverer, but with a twist. He taught his disciples to pray “deliver us from evil,” but he prefaced it with “lead us not into temptation.” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to be led away from the temptation to think, and say, and do evil things. He could not, would not rescue Israel from Rome, but he could teach people how to resist the temptation to give in to their baser instincts. He could deliver us from destructive actions, from being the source of evil.
Being king—well, that simply didn’t fit with his understanding of God’s desire for human community. If you remember, Israel was so desperate to be like other nations that the people begged God to relent and give them a king—and God gave them Saul—and they were sorry almost immediately. They wanted a king to protect them from their neighbors; they wanted a prophet or priest to represent them before God. They wanted someone out front to do it for them—save us, protect us they cried. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that what we want from the Messiah? Save me, save us; protect me, protect us?
Jesus, it would appear from this passage, didn’t think it was his job to provide security. Peter got an earful when he tried to rescue Jesus and keep him safe. “Satan,” Jesus called him. Satan for using the lens of power. Satan—for trying to tempt him to protect his life, to pursue a path of glory, to follow human wisdom instead of God’s call on his life. Jesus was intent on giving his life away. Not only that, he expected his followers to do the same. You want to save your life? This is the wrong team. You want a profit? This is the wrong company. Jesus wasn’t a king and he wasn’t a CEO. Instead he was a rabbi, or a teacher, and an organizer. He gathered together some disciples and trained them to do what he did. He taught, he forgave sins, he healed, and he restored people to God’s community. You want to follow Jesus, then that’s what you have to do. You give your life away without counting the cost. Jesus invited his disciples down a dangerous path: teach peace, teach passive resistance, teach love, teach inclusiveness, teach against power that oppresses. And by the way, there may be a cross at the end of the path.
Not the cross of your own suffering—everybody has to deal with their own problems, pain and suffering. This cross is different. It is the result of resisting the powers that oppress people. We remember the violence of the civil rights movement. We see the brutality of uprising all across the globe. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more faithful we are to God’s call on our lives—and this is as true for the Church as it is for individual Christians—the more closely we follow Jesus, the more faithful we are to God’s call on our lives, the more the world will want to crucify us. Is that bad new? No, it’s the salvation of the world not by one, but by many, through the Holy Spirit.
You have been forgiven—now go forgive someone else. You have been fed—now go feed someone else. You have been healed—now go heal someone else. You have been invited and welcomed into God’s community—now go invite and welcome someone else. Look what happens when those “someone elses” who have been left out get invited in. In Jesus day it was the sick and disabled, the Samaritan, and the Gentile (non-Jew like you and me). In our day we know how dangerous it is to work for the inclusion and rights of African Americans and other people of color, immigrants, and gender minorities. Zoom your lens in to see the beloved, unique child of God, and not the label. You understand yourself to be a beloved, unique child of God, now treat your neighbor with the same love and respect with which you want to be treated. Open your heart, and mind, and hands. And by the way, there will be plenty of people who don’t like what you do.
Peter tried to tell Jesus, “Save yourself.” But Jesus adjust their lens to understand the path and cost of discipleship, “Follow my way and we’ll pour out our lives for the world.” You see, when Jesus heard the word Messiah, he understood, “Anointed One/Commissioned One” and responded, “Send me, send us for the life of the world.” My friends and I, w e will give you our lives. Will you follow Jesus and let God pour out your life for the healing of the world?
Let us pray.