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.
Occasionally in the news one hears about an infant that has been abandoned by its parents—left at a church door, perhaps, or found on a side street somewhere, or even in a garbage can. If the parent or parents are found (usually in our North American context it is the mother), she or they are prosecuted. And we shudder and think, “What sort of heartless person could do a thing like that?”
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.
"There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile a person.” Or as Eugene Peterson translates it, “It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life.” I’m tempted to disagree. A few months ago I visited Senegal, West Africa. I spent the entire six-hour return flight from Dakar to Paris in the airplane bathroom.