Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Son of Man must suffer

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

- Mark 8:22-33

My study bible notes that Jesus takes the blind man aside for healing, in private. This is in direct contradiction to the demand, in yesterday's passage, from the Pharisees that Jesus produce an astounding miracle as proof of his identity. From now on, we are in a place of direct contradiction to popular, political and nationalistic notions of Messiah. Jesus heals privately - and my study bible notes that the healing is in stages, just as our faith grows in stages, and our understanding grows in stages. We come to "see" through a transformation process that works within us throughout our lives. We heal spiritually the same way through this gradual and constant process. It's a good metaphor for the spiritual life of prayer and relatedness to Creator. And there is still more to this story: the healing is done in a way completely opposite to that of those who demand proofs - Jesus tells the healed man not even to go into the village. The message is clear: the work of the Spirit, of spiritual power, is not for materialistic consumption, not for fame and not for self-aggrandizement. Power and truth are what they are of their own authority and not popular opinion, not as reflected in the eyes of others as a narcissistic validation of identity.

Walking on in Caesarea Philippi, a Gentile village (rebuilt by Herod's son, Philip, and named after Tiberius Caesar and himself), Jesus begins to discuss his identity with his disciples. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, meaning "Anointed One." Jesus does not seem to use this title for himself, but accepts it when it is used by others. We have already seen the misunderstanding of his role that is attributed to popular notions about Messiah. Jesus' continual effort is to shape and redefine his identity and role through spiritual teaching and by example. My study bible has a note saying that this identity is not revealed through reason, nor do miracles divulge it - but it is revealed by the Father (Matt. 16:16,17) What this tells me, in light of the discussion of "the heart" as scriptural language for the place of understanding, is that it is in "the heart" - this organ of spiritual perception - that we each develop our connection to the Father.

Jesus uses for himself the title Son of Man. This is an Old Testament reference to a messianic title (Daniel 7:13). It is properly used for this stage of Jesus' ministry, as he now begins to explain to his disciples, upon this revelation of himself as Christ, that he must suffer. In this beginning of confrontation with the Pharisees (see yesterday's passage) and his revelation of his identity to his disciples, he must also introduce the notion of suffering to the concept of messiahship. This is an additional great contradiction to popular notions of messiahship. It is so shocking to Peter as to be unthinkable. Jesus is redefining notions of messiahship through the notion of suffering and rejection (Is. 53), of endurance that will mark his redemptive work so strongly that the cross will become the enduring symbol of Christianity.

In that connection with the Father, in the heart, the divine will asks for this suffering as the way to redemption, to invoke the redemptive power of this ministry of Christ. It is the way to heal our world - by enduring its afflictions through this ministry of love and mercy and relatedness to that Father. Peter's admonition that this must not be so is taken by Jesus to be the work of the Adversary; that which opposes this will of the Father. Jesus knows that suffering must be his path, and he will follow it to its end, to his completion of his ministry and work in the world.

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