By the time we reach the 12th chapter of Mark, Jesus finds himself in the middle of a kind of theological cross-examination free-for-all. Priests, scribes, elders and other assorted defenders of the letter of the law are swarming all over him in a frenzy of entrapment.
If Mark’s gospel were a movie, this scene would make the perfect trailer. Without entirely giving away the ending, it summarizes all the major themes of Mark’s Gospel. In a nutshell, it offers everything that is quintessential Mark: the journey toward the cross, suffering and death, wrongheaded disciples, the reversal of power and Jesus’s reflection upon the meaning of his mission.
"We have forgotten who we are. We have sought only our own security, we have exploited simply for our own ends, we have distorted our knowledge, we have abused our power.” So reads the proclamation of the UN Environmental Sabbath Program.
Often Jesus’s words seem perversely contrary to sense. Take, for example, his central bit of advice in our Gospel passage for today: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross, and follow me.