Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Second Sunday of Lent
Text: Mark 8. 31-end. ‘Walking the Way of the Suffering Son of Man‘
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share together experiences of ‘suffering for your faith’ – either your own experiences or those of others. How did you or they cope in the time of trial? What sustained you/them?
A Window on the Text
This is a critical passage in the gospel. Jesus’ identity has just been disclosed (v29). Earlier, Jesus had consistently proclaimed the coming of the kingdom (1v14) but had only dropped hints as to who he was. In his preaching he used parables with the meaning of his message veiled (4v11). Now he speaks clearly, revealing his identity and who the disciples are in relation to him.
It is strange that after Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the King, that Jesus should rebuke him. And note the word rebuke (binding to silence) is the same word used of rebuking demons (1v25 and 3v12).
Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, the Human One, who must suffer many things (v31). He doesn’t accept the title Messiah at this point. This is a new element in the gospel. Earlier Jesus said that the bridegroom will be taken away from the guests at the wedding and men will fast in that day (2v20). It is an oblique reference to the cross. But here we have the first clear reference to his suffering. On the other hand it’s not too much of a surprise because in chapter 3 we are told that the Herodians and Pharisees were already looking for ways to destroy him (3v6).
‘The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and killed’ (v31) are strong words. Why must he suffer? Jesus has concluded things from the Hebrew Scriptures. He is aware of his identity and by searching the scriptures concludes there are some things he must do.
Having spoken about the sufferings and glory of the Son of Man Jesus begins to talk about the implications for all those who follow him (v34f). Taking up a cross in not about carrying some small burden in life: like sickness or a relationship difficulty. The cross – the Roman gibbet - spoke of a cruel agonising death. Here we have a new dimension to Jesus’ teaching on discipleship and it is directed not just to the twelve but also to the crowd, to ‘whoever’ will deny themselves and accept the way of suffering service.
The Christian is called to identify himself or herself absolutely with the person of Christ come what may. Martyrdom, an idea unheard of outside Judaism and the Christian household communities at the time, was certainly on the cards. No-one had made the connection before between the Old Testament figure of the suffering Son of Man and the Messiah. Suffering was not on the disciples’ radar – worldly glory was.
The household communities for whom Mark was writing his gospel were very familiar with suffering under Emperor Nero. Betrayed, arrested and subjected to torture, many succumbed and then betrayed others. These experiences had a profound impact on their identity. Mark calls on the communities ‘to stake a claim of ultimate loyalty and radical faithfulness amidst a world of violence, injustice, and oppression.’ That call echoes down through the centuries to us in our time.
Responding as a community
- It has been said that the Christian religion encourages suffering to the extent that people should seek it for its own sake. Do you agree? Is suffering to be valued as something God requires of us or should it be thought of solely in terms of our identification with Jesus, seeking justice and serving human need?
- How is the call to ‘take up your cross and follow’ Christ taught and expressed within your faith community? Is there anything that you think is missing or should change?
- In the face of the rise in religious fundamentalism and the promotion of martyrdom through suicide bombing should Christians play down the call of Christ to die if necessary for his sake?
You will need a candle and a number of small pebbles for this prayer time,
Begin your time of prayer by placing a lighted candle in the centre of your group circle.
Join together in the Lord’s Prayer and use the words ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’ instead of ‘lead us not into temptation’. Pause for a while and remain in silence thinking of those whose faith is on trial. Name aloud those places or individuals in the world where Christians are suffering for their faith and place a pebble around the candle for each place or person named.
Complete the Lord’s Prayer and then pray for other concerns raised by group members.
Join hands and close with the Grace using the words ‘the solidarity of the Holy Spirit’ instead of ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’.
Probably very few members of Mark’s household communities were Roman citizens. This meant that they had no legal protection against the cruelty inflicted upon them. It is quite likely that Mark’s gospel was written in Rome about 67 to 69 AD and one of the reasons for writing may well have been to help the Christian households cope with the desperate challenge to their faith brought about through Nero’s persecutions.
Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome which broke out on 19 July 64, to cover his own back. The fire burnt down 10 out of the 14 wards of the city. Rumours were rife that Nero was responsible for the fire; evidence suggests he was an inept emperor, with an inefficient administration and unpopular with high taxes.
Nero spent a lot of his time in Greece taking part in dramatic presentations and was not really interested in the day-to-day running of the Empire. He shifted the blame from himself to the Christian sect who became the scapegoats. There followed a reign of terror in Rome affecting the Christian household communities.
The first letter of Peter was written from ‘Babylon’ (Rome) in order to minister to Christians in Asia Minor who may soon have to go through a time of affliction and tribulation like that the Christians in Rome were experiencing. The outbreak of persecution in Rome cost Peter and Paul their lives. Notice the word scapegoat used in 1 Peter 2 verse 12.
A description of the severity of Nero’s persecution of the Christian sect is provided by the Roman historian Tacitus’ in his Annals (15:44). He says that it is "a destructive superstition" (exitiabilis superstitio). The charge of arson was merely a pretence, to persecute an already unpopular religious sect, infamous for its antisocial attitude (odium humani generis) (Tacitus, Ann. 15.44). Suetonius calls Christianity "a new and evil superstition" (superstitio nova ac malefica) (Nero 16).
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion