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Visions from The Catacombs Week Before March 1, 2015


Mark 8:27-38

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.”

What I Am Learning:

Last week the word “Satan” made its first appearance in the Gospel of Mark. This week see another.

Again, the word “satan” was the name for a Persian secret service agent who posed as a common person. These agents would work to set people up to say or do things against the king, but would then have them arrested for sedition.

As time went on the word Satan began to be used to describe the power and presence of a domination culture: a culture in which to be human is to be powerful and to survive many had to submit to the few. I have often written/spoken of this power and presence. Like a slow-moving mob mentality, it drives much of our behavior and drives many of our joys and relationships into the ground.

One of the best images of “Satan” might be Agent Smith from The Matrix. Agent Smith is a program than can listen in to any interaction and can take over any unsuspecting person to stop a threat to The Matrix.

But in another sense “Satan” is the matrix itself. As Morpheus says to Neo on the phone, before we know what it is, that “The matrix has you.” Later he says that “It is the world that is pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

This kind of systemic lying is difficult to perceive because it invites us to lie about ourselves and who God is – a worldview that is itself a lie.

Jesus told his disciples that he, as the messiah, was going to go to Jerusalem and be rejected and be killed.

This was contrary to the any expectation of the messiah in the first century. If a would-be messiah was killed they would, by definition, be rejected as the true messiah. Again, the messiah was to

  • Heal the sick
  • Cleanse the lepers
  • Make the lame to walk
  • The blind to see
  • Preach good news to the poor by changing the economic system AND
  • To be a militarily successful general who would make the hills red with the blood of Romans

So Jesus was messing with their minds in a major way, the matrix had them.

Peter believed Jesus is the true messiah and that this cannot happen. He took Jesus aside so that Jesus’ reputation would not be damaged, and rebuked him.

But Jesus rebuked him instead, in front of everyone. Then he told Peter that he was acting as an agent for Satan. Peter was Agent Smith of the kingdom of domination.

Domination culture tell us that it’s either them or us, eat or be eaten. It tells us that cooperation is weakness, that love is only an emotion that applies to our family and friends. It tells us that when the chips are down the only saving power is violence. And if being strong will not work, then your only hope is to ally yourself with someone who is powerful and give up your humanity to do so.

But Jesus did not give up either his humanity or his hope for a better future. He would not be dominated nor he dominated. He sought to be mutual with each person he met and spread a replacement culture: a culture of mutuality in which we hold each other as equals, to hold our self interests in tension with that of others.

Jesus believed in the saving power of self-giving and self-respecting love – even if it meant risking his life.

Then he asked his disciples to do the same.

The sad truth about much of Christianity today, is that we have reduced Jesus’ death into a human sacrifice given to a God who un-Biblically requires a payment for sin. (see Psalm 51; Isaiah 1; Amos 5)

People say, “The Jewish people expected a political messiah and instead they got a spiritual one."

In this one sentence Christianity is unmade.

When we say this we not only misunderstand God, the meaning of sacrifice, the role of the Messiah but we reduce our discipleship to nearly a nothing – which is why it is said so often.

There is a difference between Jesus understanding of the messiah and other people in the first century. But the difference is not about whether Jesus was working to change the everyday life of human beings on this planet, as this common saying suggests.

The difference is that Jesus rejected violence as a means to bring about this change.

I think it more accurate to say, “Many Jewish people expected a violent messiah to bring about social and political change and instead they got a non-violent one.”

Jesus could have done the ISIS thing, you know. He could have done the Taliban, or the White “Christian” Power thing. No doubt. He had an army in his hands.

But he rejected using power over others as a way to stop a system of power over others. He rejected the power of Satan, the coercive power of violence, to achieve his ends. When we live by the sword, we die by the sword, he said. Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you, he said.

Jesus encourages us not to be ashamed of his words. But it is amazing how, even in my quiet office listening to Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, how hard it is to write these words. The power and presence of Agent Smith is with me even here. The Matrix still has me, at least a little, maybe more than a little.

Yet in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can hear Jesus asking me to join him in risking myself to take part in the social change through God’s way of mutuality.

He is calling you, too.

May God’s way of mutuality come among and through us, by the gift of God.