The Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, Church of the Redeemer, Shelbyville, February 25, 2024

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mk. 8:33).

Peter can never get it quite right. No sooner has he confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, just a few verses before our reading today, than he blows it again. Jesus predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection, and Peter rebukes him. He must have been shocked: how can God’s anointed one suffer and die? From Peter’s perspective, Jesus is getting his messaging wrong, and confusing people, at the very least; at the worst he’s heading in the wrong direction entirely. How can he be predicting disaster? He’s the messiah, after all! But as we find out very quickly, it’s not Jesus who’s got it wrong, but Peter himself.

It’s a kind of test for Jesus. His closest follower is letting him know that he’s headed in the wrong direction. Just last week, we heard how Jesus was in the desert for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. Mark tells us that he was with the wild animals, and that angels ministered to him. It’s the traditional story of the first Sunday in Lent, getting us started on the forty-day season of penitence, in which we like Jesus will be tested and proved.

Now, Satan appears in a different guise: as a devoted follower. Maybe it’s not necessary that the Son of Man suffer and die: that’s the temptation. Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus was tempted in the desert, like Matthew and Luke, but he does give us this story of temptation in today’s gospel. Now, it’s Peter who’s tempting him, but the devil who’s behind it. “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mk. 8:33), You might say that Jesus is being tempted, but that Peter is the one who fails the test.

It’s possible that Peter simply thought that Jesus had come as an earthly Messiah, to knock heads together and to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Maybe Peter thought that was the agenda: a purely earthly hope, of throwing out the bad guys and putting the right people in place. That’s a tempting thought too: a hardy perennial that never seems to go out of style.

At the heart of Peter’s test is the good news of death and resurrection. This is what Peter gets wrong. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected… and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mk. 8:31) Another way of saying this is, “No cross, no crown.” That is, there is no new life, no redemption, no healing, unless Jesus suffers, dies, and rises again.

It’s not just what’s on the agenda for Jesus, but also for Peter, and all of us. Jesus invites his followers, all of us, to a cruciform life. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34). This is the pattern of death and resurrection, of Lent and Easter, that Jesus lays out in our Gospel today. “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it” (Mk. 8:35).

Peter would like something else to be true. There must be an easier way! Isn’t it possible to go straight to resurrection, with a shortcut of sorts, provided by an all-powerful and loving God? Or maybe we could even reverse our steps and return to Eden without worrying about carrying the cross? It’s all been a terrible mistake! Maybe we can persuade the angel of death to forget all about it, to put his flaming sword back in its sheath and open up the gates of heaven.

“Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 8:33) As we hear in our Gospel, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Why isn’t it easier to reverse the power of sin and death?: well, that’s a mystery known only to God. There is no shortcut, no way into the kingdom that doesn’t bring us up against our own mortality, our own propensity for dust and ashes.

But good news is good news for a reason, because Jesus’ death and resurrection means the destruction of death, and our redemption from sin. The impossible becomes possible: new life, reconciliation with God, the healing of our deepest wounds, only because Jesus embraced death on our behalf, and won for us everlasting life.

The cruciform shape of Lent and Easter imprints its own pattern on us. When we hear about Abraham “hoping against hope” (Rom. 4:18) in our second reading today, we’re seeing the same pattern. He knew what it was to hope against hope: to continue to hope even though there seemed no hope. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we get to the end and then discover the new life that lies beyond it. That’s our stance: humility and hope.

As the poet F.W. Faber put it, in the words from the old hymn: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; / there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. / There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; / there is mercy with the Savior; / there is healing in his blood.”

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee