Listen to him!
The gospel reading for Sunday, Jan. 10th, four days after the insurrection in Washington, DC, narrates the baptism of Jesus. The passage includes: “A voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Mark 1:9-11). Clearly, Jesus heard the voice of God; at this point in the gospel it is not clear that anyone else heard this voice.
On February 28th, the second Sunday of Lent, the gospel reading is the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10). Jesus ascended a mountain with Peter, James and John; Jesus is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah also appeared alongside Jesus. Again, the voice of God came from a cloud saying: “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” This time the three disciple hear this voice. Is the message the same? To answer that question, beyond the obvious additional words, one must consider the placement of the passage within the narrative layout of Mark’s gospel.
The Transfiguration comes after the first of three passion predictions by Jesus, each of which is followed by accounts of the disciples mis-understanding the prediction, and therefore, the mission and life example of Jesus. After Jesus’ first passion prediction (8:31-33), Peter took him aside and rebuked him. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Calling Peter “Satan” connects Pete’s action with the temptation of Jesus in the desert by Satan (1:12-13). Then Jesus told the crowds: “If any person wishes to follow me, let that one pick up their cross and follow me. … Whomever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Peter is rejecting Jesus’ mission that will lead to death; he is also rejecting any suffering that he, Peter, might encounter in following Jesus. The Transfiguration follows: God is telling the disciples to really hear, take to heart, what Jesus is saying.
After the second passion prediction (9:30-32), the disciples argued over who is the greatest among them. Jesus taught that “If anyone would be first, that one must last of all and servant of all.” After the third passion prediction (10:32-34), James and John asked for positions of power and prestige. Jesus commented on gentile rulers who “lord it over subjects,” but “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
Listen to Jesus; following him involves courage and perhaps also suffering; do not strive to be first, rather strive to be servant of all; do not “lord it over” others, rather be servants/slaves of all.
In my teaching, I always emphasized “listen.” Now I will also emphasize “him.” Many times we are confronted with conflicting messages on whom to follow, whom to trust. Jesus gave us criteria: those who espouse and live gospel values.
Finally, many pictures of the January insurrection showing flags and t-shirt messages were quite disturbing, but one especially caught my eye – “Jesus saves.” What a misuse of the name of Jesus! While it is true that Jesus does save us, to use this phrase to justify the actions of some of the insurrectionists is to misuse the name of Jesus – tantamount to taking God’s name in vain. Objection to that slogan used that day is not a political statement; it is a call to take seriously the gospel message about Jesus and a Christian’s leadership style, within the community and in public. In words and actions one needs to hold the Bible right-side up.