In the Lectionary

September 12, Ordinary 24B (Mark 8:27–38)

The cross we choose to bear reveals who we think Jesus is.

This passage contains one of Jesus’ most powerful questions: “But who do you say I am?” It also contains the striking directive, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take their cross and follow me.” These two lines compel each of us to ask ourselves not only who we think Jesus really is but also just how far we are willing to go to follow him.

It would be so much easier if Jesus asked, “Who am I?” Then we could repeat the answers we have heard all our lives—the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate, the Messiah. But he asks us to name what we ourselves actually believe, so we cannot hide behind what we have been told are the right answers. The cross that we choose to bear probably reveals who we think he really is. I have picked up my cross and followed, but at times it seems like I chose the smallest cross I could find.

This question and this directive vex and challenge. The passage’s final sentence also makes us think twice: when he returns in glory, he will be ashamed of “those who are ashamed of [him] and of [his] words.” There are so many things about Christian life, faith, and history that I am uncomfortable with, if not outright ashamed of. Together, these three sentences could seem like two body blows and a knockout punch. Jesus rebuked Peter; something worse could be headed my way.