Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
27 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?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“Break it to me gently.” We don’t like to get bad news thrust upon us in too violent a manner. It is easier to accept something we don’t want to hear if the person warms us up and works their way up to it. Jesus is about to deliver some difficult news and he eases the disciples in.
How would you break it to someone you cared about if you knew your death was imminent? I’m not sure there is a good way. The one difference with Jesus to any other person is that while people will mourn him, they will all profit by his death. Providing a greater meaning or purpose for the unpleasantness ahead is a good way to introduce bad news.
Jesus has the disciples tease out a group consensus about who he is. They establish that over the course of their time spent with him, they have come to believe he is the Messiah. Now they are ready to hear about the grand plan for the salvation of humankind. When he tells them he must die, surely this knowledge will help them make sense of it?
Of course it doesn’t. Peter tries to reprimand Jesus. I’m sure he must have pleaded with him to look for another way. He may have accused Jesus of being ridiculous or rash. Bargaining, denial and anger are typical responses to bad news. Jesus gets infamously angry with him in return.
It can’t have been easy to vulnerably share with them about this awful trial he was destined to endure. It must have been worse when they responded with disbelief and objection. The hardest temptation to resist is when the people who love and care for you tell you that you would be justified in dodging out of your duties. “Leave that til tomorrow and come out for coffee with us instead! You deserve it!”. You want to believe them even though you know it is wrong.
This is when Jesus, in exasperation, opens the conversation up to wider group and takes everything back to first principles. He reminds the whole ensemble that suffering and sacrifice are part of the package. The failing of the disciples to understand him and to support him simply reflects the long-standing delusion that humans labour under; the idea that suffering is not supposed to be a part of the human experience.
Suffering is as essential to the workings of the world as gravity, or darkness, or hope or love. Without suffering there is almost no potential for change or growth. Without suffering nothing is hard-won and therefore nothing is valuable. It is not that we should seek to suffer unnecessarily in life, but it has to be embraced in the aspects of life where it is inevitable. This is what Jesus reminds the crowd about in the passage.
Break the bad news to me gently, Lord, not so that I can avoid it. Break it to me gently so that I can integrate it into my thinking. Break it to me gently so that I can see where I can grow. Break it to me gently so that I can see where you can be at work in it.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.