A reflection for the 12th September 2021
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021
from the Revd. Stephen French
Offered for Sunday 12th September 2021
'Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021'
Compiled 11th September 2021
In a recent quiz found on the internet, a series of twenty questions
are asked and once you've answered them in a little bit of detail,
it purports to asses who and what you are?
For example, one possibility is a blonde female in her thirties,
with two children and currently deciding whether to have a third.
It bases this on questions such as,
"How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?",
"Do you keep a sweater at the office?",
"Do you like flip-flops?" and
"Choose your favourite "Toy Story" character".
Of course nobody could possibly know such precise detail about someone
from, twenty questions like these, but it does demonstrate our deep anxiety
about knowing who we are, or perhaps wishing we were someone else.
Let us Pray
whose Son died on the cross
for everyone who lives:
show us by his dying
how the place of defeat
can be the place of victory;
and help us to take up our own cross
whatever form it takes,
so that all ages and gender
may recognise your love in us
and come to you, with Christ
in Resurrection glory.
It seems one of the first lessons of celebrity status is, you lose the right
to your own persona. As soon as you become a "Public Person", the public
will form their own image of you, whether you like it or not.
Key to this process will be the many images presented in all pervasive
media. Then there's the image you present to your followers; hopefully
truthful, but aware you don't want them to desert you;
and then there's
the face you show your family and close friends, which is closer to the
"real" you; and in the words of Oliver Cromwell, warts and all.
Finally, there is the level not even disclosed to your nearest and dearest.
The passage from Mark 8: 27 to 38 shows the differing and changeable
perceptions of Jesus among his followers and the crowds.
We want him to be the image of what we hope he represents. If he's truly
from God then we assume he'll behave in the way we expect God to behave.
In this way we treat Jesus as we do all our celebrities, whether they
represent our dreams, our morals or our country.
This can be problematic when those dreams step out of line or behave
seemingly "out of character".
Yet as Jesus' teaching continues, it becomes clear the fulfilment of God's
purpose does not depend on how it is received, but rather on the
faithfulness of the servant.
Why did people believe Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah?
It's because people love to believe a myth.
We love the idea of the wonder-drug, of mind over matter, of this or that
For whatever reason, people didn't generally believe Jesus was the Messiah,
but they did think he was from God; some kind of reincarnation, some
"Ghost of Christmas past" come to haunt them for perhaps suppressing
the truth, or simply for the way God's prophet was treated.
Even Peter, who gets the answer right, has it all so wrong.
"You are the Messiah!" he says; with hardly a clue as to what Messiah
really means. In Matthew 16, Jesus then goes on to bless Peter for his
declaration, but here in Mark's Gospel we simply have the stern order
not to tell anyone about him.
Peter proves his lack of understanding in the following exchange.
Just as the people wanted Jesus to be their kind of myth, so Peter
wished him to be his kind of Messiah.
Jesus' teaching here is often called his first "Passion Prediction",
but he doesn't only speak of suffering.
He also foretells resurrection.
This point is completely lost on Peter, who takes Jesus aside to
give him some coaching in positive thinking. He is fixated on his image
of how the Messiah will save. He can't think outside the box.
For Peter, it is impossible that the Messiah could be rejected and
suffer like that!
He isn't really ready to have his faith stretched.
But his strong reaction to the first part of the teaching prevents
Peter hearing the final denouement.
Jesus' famous response,
"Get behind me, Satan!" shows
Peter's mindset is blocking his way.
Knowing Jesus is Messiah is just a fraction of the matter,
which Peter overlays with a huge mound of human assumptions.
"You are setting your mind," says Jesus, "not on divine things,
but on human things."
In the teaching that follows, Jesus talks about giving up everything
to be his followers; and the disciples have already, seemingly,
done this. But perhaps the key thing for them to give up is their
In Jesus, God was revealing a mystery; hitherto unseen.
It's how we think of things that causes us to hold on to them tightly;
but if our arms are full of the wrong things we are unable to
take hold of life.
Finally Jesus shows he is the revealer.
The way to follow him is to have our minds open to how and what he
reveals about God. Ultimately our destiny of life or death depends on
what we think of him.
Like Peter, we are at risk of making God the way we want him,
or think he ought to be. But God is always surprising because
our minds are too small and our wisdom too earthbound.
A large part of faithfulness for Christian disciples, therefore,
is not simply sticking with the small extent to which our eyes have
already been opened, but displaying the courage to have our faith
extended by new insights into God's grace.
Even when we have received a kernel of truth from God
we are deeply susceptible to covering it with a mass of human assumptions.
Faithful discipleship on our part therefore requires the constant opening
and expansion of our faith; in the light of his grace.
Our personal response to the challenges Jesus provides to our faith
is what leads us to life or death.
The Spirit of the Lord rest upon you:
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and power,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord;
may you delight in the Lord, now and always.
And the blessing of God almighty......