The Mysterious Divine Identity

16 September 2018 – Lectionary 24, Proper 1

Mark 8:27-38

Mark wants us to know, in this story of the exchange between Peter and Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, that the identity of Jesus is also a matter of perspective. From one point of view, Jesus is simply John the Baptist, chapter 2, and from another perspective he is an apocalyptic preacher like Elijah, and from still another vantage point he’s merely one of the prophets. . . While there is an ounce of truth in all of these angles on Jesus, he is far more than John, more than Elijah, and more than a prophet. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God, the one who, through his death on the cross, would liberate humanity from the destructive grip of the demonic. . . .

In this text, Jesus, as he does so often in Mark, commands secrecy. . . This is, of course, ironic, since the whole gospel of Mark is an exerted effort to tell people about Jesus. . . . Many explanations have been offered for the reason Jesus commands silence, for the so-called Markan secret, but the best explanations recognize that Mark wants us to know Jesus but to be humble always about what we do not—and cannot—know.

Jesus is our Lord and savior, but something about him always remains beyond our grasp. Whenever people think they have Jesus completely figured out, whenever they are too quick to blab about what they know about God and Jesus and the faith, they have missed the mark. This means, finally, that the Christian life, which means drawing ever more fully into the path of Jesus, is always a mystery, always an adventure. It is never fully exhausted; there is always a surprise waiting for us around the corner.

The main surprise is that Jesus, the risen Jesus, is alive. No written document, no gospel, can contain him or explain him. He is a living presence, leading his followers into an ever-graceful future, filled with the unexpected encounters with Christ. –– Thomas G. Long

Isaiah 50:4-9a

This is the third “Servant Song” in Second Isaiah, written in the time of the Babylonian Exile. The servant is dedicated to God despite the pain and rejection that will follow from that dedication. The servant does not try to escape from the sufferings that come from his commitment to the LORD. Rather he expresses confidence in God’s love. He knows that God is on his side. His confidence is vindicated by the LORD’s bringing his people back to their homeland.

The servant here, Jesus in the Gospel, and we Jesus’ disciples face suffering in the world. Suffering is not a positive thing. But we suffer because we attempt to live the Gospel in a world that does not share its values. –– Joseph McHugh

James 3:1-12

James seems to be telling us, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” We have many opportunities in the church, as in the rest of our lives, to start major fires from what seem like very small sparks. What practical wisdom do we need today to prevent such fires? –– E. Byron (Ron) Anderson

E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

Thomas G. Long, professor emeritus of preaching at Candler School of Theology, is the author of many widely read books on preaching, including The Witness of Preaching.

Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer on scripture and other religious topics.

Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 15-25.

David Turnbloom