Sunday’s sermon: The Wrong Right Answer

faith action

Texts used – Psalm 19; Mark 8:27-38

  • “[Ron] had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes. ‘Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,’ she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth. … ‘Are you sure that’s a real spell?’ said the girl. ‘Well, it’s not very good, is it? I’ve tried a few simple spells just for practice and it’s all worked for me. Nobody in my family’s magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it’s the very best school of witchcraft there is, I’ve heard – I’ve learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough.’”[1] → And so prolifically imaginative author J.K. Rowling introduces us to arguably one of the greatest female literary characters of all time: Hermione Granger.
    • Always has her nose buried in a book
    • Always working exceptionally hard to be the best and brightest, smartest, top of the class in everything she does
      • Constantly the first to raise her hand in class
      • Always the first one to get things right – potions, spells, etc.
      • Loves to study and do homework and take tests
      • Hermione is the one that her friends always go to for the “right” answer because they know without a doubt that she will know it. → reminds me a lot of Peter in our Scripture reading this morning – story of right answers … and not-so-right answers
  • Gospel reading, pt. 1 → all about the right answer
    • Text: Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.[2] → “Who do people say that I am?” = interesting question for Jesus to ask along the road
      • Gets a couple of “kinda-sorta” answers from some of the disciples – maybe John the Baptist (who has been killed by Herod at this point), maybe Elijah (prophet who was whisked into heaven by God before he could even die), maybe “one of the prophets” (really … does it get any more vague than that??)
      • But it’s Peter who comes up with the zinger: “You are the Christ.” Ta da! Ding ding ding ding ding! I kind of picture Jeaopardy in my head on this one. – moment in the show when there’s one contestant who obviously has the answer but just can’t get buzzed in soon enough so while the people around him are buzzing in and giving the wrong answer, that contestant is standing there just mashing on his buzzer button as fast as he can → That’s how I picture Peter in this moment. He’s got the answer. He knows he does. And he can’t wait to share it.
    • And you’d think Jesus would be excited about this answer. In fact, you’d think he’d be doing cartwheels because finally, at least one of the disciples gets it!! → over and over again, throughout Mark, disciples are portrayed as not understanding
      • Not understanding who Jesus is
      • Not understanding what he’s doing to the point of being a hinerance (esp. turning away people seeking healing)
      • Not understanding what Jesus is trying to tell them, both through parables and in “plain speech”
    • But finally, in our story this morning, Peter gives Jesus the right answer … and yet, Jesus responds with another theme in Mark – one that is challenging and frankly a bit baffling → what scholars call the Messianic Secret in Mark – text: He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.[3]
      • Time and time again throughout Mark’s gospel – whenever Jesus does anything miraculous or anything worth noting – he instructs those involved not to tell anyone what he’s done.
        • Happens with healings
        • Happens with casting out demons
        • Happens with resurrections
        • It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking to a demon that’s been cast out, a regular person, or the disciples. The instruction is always the same: Tell no one. Keep it quiet. Of course, people rarely listen to Jesus when he tells them this. More often than not, they run back to their villages, to their families, even to the Pharisees bursting with the news of this incredible thing that Jesus has just done for them. But the fact remains that Jesus insists on silence. Even in the face of this Ultimate Right Answer that Peter has given, Jesus’ response is, “Don’t tell anyone.”
      • Scholars posit multiple reasons for this → could be that Jesus knows it isn’t quite the right time for his death and resurrection yet → He has more to do before his time comes, and if people spread the word too quickly, it’ll bring his ministry to a close too soon.
  • Because as we see in the next part of our reading, Jesus knows exactly what’s coming. → first of 3 predictions about his impending death that Jesus makes in Mk – text: Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.”[4]
    • Peter’s reaction to this = certainly a gut reaction (probably like the reaction we all would have in the same situation): He said this to them plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[5] → Poor Peter’s entire story of discipleship is a roller coaster of highs and lows. He’s just given Jesus The Perfect Answer – “You are the Christ” – and then, when Jesus tells them about the suffering that is to come – Peter tries to get Jesus to stop. He takes hold of him. He scolds him, corrects him, rebukes and warns him. In Peter’s mind, Jesus’ words cannot be the right answer, so he’s got to stop.
      • Peter’s response according to Matthew’s version of this story: Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.”[6] → words and actions that Peter surely thought were right in his own head – no one wants to listen to their mentor speak such words of pain and suffering about himself – so again, Peter tries to give the “right” answer … but this time, he is oh, so wrong
    • Instead of Jesus listening to him – maybe even praising him for his devotion and protective impulses – Jesus comes back at Peter with another hard-to-swallow response: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
      • In Peter’s defense: must remember that Peter was a Jew – “Messiah/Christ/Anointed One” that the Jews were waiting for was a kingly warrior figure who would liberate them from the oppression of the Romans at the tip of a sword → So for Peter to hear that this Messiah who was supposed to be their Mighty Liberator was actually planning on suffering and dying at the hands of their enemies was surely jarring, to say the least.
        • Scholar: Imagine the disciples’ shock on hearing that the restored and anointed one should suffer in the same way Israel has. If the Messiah suffers in this same way, how can the Messiah restore Israel? … After we come to claim Jesus as the Messiah promised to the Jews, we are forced to accept the radical and strange meaning of Jesus as this Messiah. Regardless of the possibility that years of Sunday school have properly indoctrinated us into the “right” answer about who Jesus is and the meaning of his life, the radical new meaning of being the Messiah found in this text is not what we inherently wish for or expect at a fundamental level as human beings.[7] → And yet, not only did Peter get a harsh response from Jesus, the Messiah went on to talk about how those who truly wanted to follow him must actually lost their lives as well!
          • Not the answer Peter expected
          • Almost certainly not the answer he wanted to hear
  • So let’s return to our initial illustration for a moment – Hermione Granger. If you’re not familiar with the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter created by J.K. Rowling, let me give you a very quick primer this morning.
    • Hogwarts = boarding school for young witches and wizards to learn how to use magic → 4 “houses”/student communities within Hogwarts: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Gryffindor → each house has its own personality (Hufflepuff = kind, Slytherin = conniving, Ravenclaw = studious, Gryffindor = brave) → upon embarking on their educational journey within the walls of Hogwarts, each student is magically sorted into a house that best fits their personality and character → Knowing what you already know about Hermione, you would expect that she would be sorted into Ravenclaw – the house for those who thirst for knowledge above all else. And yet, when it comes to her turn to be sorted, Hermione is sent to Gryffindor – the house of bravery.
      • Many who knew her would’ve thought it was a mistake
      • But time and time again throughout the entire Harry Potter saga, Hermione proves that, while she’s certainly full of book smarts – very often having exactly the right answer in the midst of a sticky situation – she also possess the ability and the assurance to act – for the good of her friends, for the good of those weaker than herself, and for the greater good. When the Sorting Hat put Hermione in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw, it was a testimony to the importance of having the courage to act over having the “right” answer.
    • Scholar: Peter’s exclamation that Jesus is the Messiah appears to give us hope that the disciples are starting to understand who Jesus is. Unfortunately it is a false hope. Peter’s “correct confession” is deceptive. It points out an important reality: we can have what appears to be everything in order – words, actions, and so on – and still have it very wrong.[8]
      • Ps 19 speaks to that this morning
        • Speaks of all the wonder and beauty and magnificence that is God’s work
        • Speaks of how God’s word and God’s instructions are perfect and righteous
        • Speaks of how crucial it is to keep God’s word
        • And yet – text: But can anyone know what they’ve accidentally done wrong? Clear me of my unknown sin and save your servant from willful sins. Don’t let them rule me. Then I’ll be completely blameless; I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.[9]
  • Very often, we seem to think that “discipleship” means having the right answers at the right times. But in our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus reminds us that that’s not what discipleship is about at all. It’s not about having the right answer, the wrong answer, or any answer. It’s about actions. – text: After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”[10]
    • Scholar: Jesus’ words to Peter suggest that he can and must gain another perspective, that he can set his mind on “divine things.” In our relationship with Jesus, there is the promise and the hope that somehow the divine perspective on who we are and what we are about breaks through. In him God enables us to find a way that is different from the way of the world, enables us to discern how life is fulfilled as God intends, enables us to live by values that are not embodied in the normal course of human affairs.[11] → It is a call to follow – a stark, startling, strange and summoning call to follow Jesus, not with all the quick and easy answers – not even with the complex but comforting answers – but to simply follow. It is indeed a stark, startling, and strange call. But let us follow all the same. Amen.

[1] J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (New York, NY: Scholastic Books, 1997), 106-107.

[2] Mk 8:27-30.

[3] Mk 8:29-30 (emphasis added).

[4] Mk 8:31.

[5] Mk 8:32-33.

[6] Mt 16:22.

[7] Nathan G. Jennings. “Proper 19 (Sunday between September 11 and September 17 inclusive) – Mark 8:27-38 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 69, 71.

[8] Andrê Resner. “Mark 8:27-30 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 239.

[9] Ps 19:12-14.

[10] Mk 8:34-38.

[11] Harry B. Adams. “Proper 19 (Sunday between September 11 and September 17 inclusive) – Mark 8:27-38 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 72.

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