27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
The church is more than three quarters of the way through this year of grace that especially features gospel readings from St. Mark, the earliest, shortest, most concise narrative of Jesus' earthly ministry. Today's passage is considered a literary and theological hinge between the two major sections of Mark. Moat of the first half happens around Jesus' hometown area of Galilee; most of the second occurs on the way to, near, and in Jerusalem.
Jesus and his disciples are in a Caesarville—Caesarea Philippi, a center of worship of the god Pan (Pastor Peg told us our word panic relates to Pan's activities; I mentioned Pan was a musician), worship of the Ba'al place gods, worship of the Roman Emperor. Besides dividing different locations of first and second half of Mark, these verses form a kind of hinge between sections of Mark because they demand an answer to the question of Jesus' identity and call, and, by extension, a response to the question of our identity and calling as people of God who bear the name of Christ Jesus.
Especially in the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is particularly incessant and intentional. Surprisingly(!), this is the very first place in Mark where Jesus uses the word "cross."
Like many during the last three or four millennia, we live in a Caesarville—a place defined by one empire or another. Do we live where Trumpville, Forty Five City, Big Pharma Nation or Mass Violence Villa hold sway and try to have the final say? Yes, all of those, and lots more we can think of too easily.
Mark 8:34 – the cross Jesus calls us to carry is not the sorrows, losses, struggles, trials, disappointments. difficulties everyone experiences to some degree in life. Jesus' especially calls us to carry the cross that's a loud "no" to death, "no" to violence, "no" to exploitation, "no" to inequality, "no" to imperial excesses of every kind, "no" to hatred, etc. When we carry the cross of Jesus Christ, we speak a resounding "yes" to life, "yes" to peace, to equality, community, to neighborology, to love, to inclusion, etc.
We had surprisingly little discussion of the famous conversational exchange between Jesus and Peter. One class participant pointed out what a deep level of trusting friendship Jesus and Peter must have had to speak so freely and openly to each other. Think about it! No risk of a sudden angry de-friending between them!