In the Lectionary

February 28, Lent 2B (Mark 8:31–38)

Peter has guts. He reproaches the very one he identifies as anointed.

Longtime improv comedy teacher Billy Merritt claims there are three types of improvisers: the pirate, the straight man or woman, and the ninja. The pirate is the one we think of when we imagine an improviser. This is the zany one, fearless and unpredictable, willing to do or say anything in order to get a scene going. John Belushi, at his Belushiest, was a pirate.

When I lead improv workshops for church groups, I like to ask, “Who was Jesus’ best pirate?” Many groups answer instantly, with one voice: Peter. Peter is always full of grand gestures. When Peter sees Jesus transfigured on the mountain, he wants to go right to work building dwellings so they can stay up there and bask in that wonderful feeling. When he tries to rebuff Jesus for washing his feet and Jesus chastises him, he changes his tune: OK, Jesus, wash my whole body instead! And when the disciples are fishing together after the resurrection and see Jesus standing on the beach, we know which one jumps into the water and swims in to meet him, rather than just taking the boat ashore.

That go-for-broke attitude traces back to today’s passage. Immediately prior to this, Jesus has asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds: the Messiah. Barely three verses later, Peter is rebuking him—rebuking the Messiah. Jesus is having none of it (“Get behind me, Satan!”), though notably, he doesn’t blanch at the fact of the pushback so much as the content: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”