Text: Mark 8: 27 – 33
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
In the passage that we are going to meditate we are with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them the most important question. “Who do you say I am?” I can picture Peter being the smartest boy in the classroom who always has his hand raised up to give the answer. “You are the Messiah” is his prompt reply. It is a high point in his life as a Disciple to be the first one to Declare Jesus as the Messiah. But before we wait too long, Jesus tells the disciples that His journey to the Cross is through suffering, rejection, death and finally rejection. This was not appealing to Peter who took Jesus to his side and rebuked him. He could not imagine his Messiah being so vulnerable and weak. He did not imagine suffering, rejection and death the ideal for the Lord he was following. He had much more spectacular expectations from his Messiah. And how did Jesus respond? “Get behind me Satan” “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Peter like most of us was ready to have a Messiah and declare him as one but wanted to follow him in his own terms. Being a disciple to a Messiah who was a Superman was great. He healed, He walked on water, He taught with authority. But a Messiah who was going to suffer, was going to be killed was not to the liking of Peter.
Recently the movie “Man of Steel” the Superman movie was released. I did not watch it yet but there was an article that said that this Superman was designed on a Jesus archetype. It feasts on a savior complex of us where we need a savior who cushions us from all sufferings and the fear of death. It has increased our obsession as people of faith to be more and more obsessed with ourselves. We want a Superman who will fulfill all our needs and keep us safe. But in act of faith we seldom think of sacrificing or suffering for Christ. So lofty ideals of sacrifice, loving your neighbor, purposeful living, Feeling the presence of God, are more matters that sound good in sermons or books. Let us also remember that even though our faith practices has made us self centred, we still love to hear the great stories of people with faith, who sacrificed and laid their life for the Lord. We become all emotional and content to live this vicarious life. Soren Kierkegaard explains this phenomenon in a beautiful parable. It goes like this.
“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk to fly beyond the barns. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.”
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”
We are very secure in the World of Malls and Online stores. It all cushions us from all realities of life. We draw great security from the things that we can buy and own. It gives us stability and calmness. This is the reason why retail therapy is catching on. So as long as I grow more and more selfish and self- obsessed, things will keep falling in place. I do not have to worry about anything. My biggest worry is “I now have iPhone 4, when will I Buy the next.” Or “This particular car is my dream, when will it be mine”. We are conditioned to believe that these are very essential to our life and circumstances. We will keep rationalizing with ourselves and at the same time feel very happy to read the verse ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16: 24). As a Church we have a huge cloud of witness that have laid down their life, sacrificed and became heroes of faith. They denied themselves and took up the cross to follow Jesus. Today these heroes make us feel proud. We own them. We feel all emotional that they are part of our tradition. We may also trace our ancestry to them. But we will not fly. For the corn is good and the barnyard is secure. The living presence of Christ that moves people to action, to lay their lives down for God and their neighbor is now lost.
As a child the song that I ridiculed the most was the classic Malayalam song “Ennod Ulla Nin Sarva nanmaggal Kay”. This is song No 67 in our Kristhiya Keerthanam. Whenever there is any material or familial fulfillment like a House is bought or at the time of the Girl about to leave for the wedding this song is ritually sung. It is a song that articulates thanks giving in the best possible manner. One day when I was talking to my friend Rev Abraham Thomas, who is the Youth Chaplain of Bangalore, he told me the story of a man of faith, P.V. Thommi. He was an evangelist who ministered to the villages in Kunamgullam, in Kerala. He was a great witness. Because of his preaching and works, many people came to faith. One day the epidemic of plague broke out in one of the villages. Many well-wishers advised him to leave the village and run for security as the epidemic was fast catching up. But Thommi said that “I have thus far preached about love. Now is the time to practice it. I am going nowhere. I am going to serve my people in this time of crisis.” With his relentless work, exhaustion caught up with the 38 year old Thommi. He too became the victim of plague. He had a choice of running for security. But he decided to deny himself and carry the cross. Holding his 5 year old daughter close to him he sang this song which is credited to him “Ennod ulla Nin sarva nanmagal.” He looked into the eyes of death and suffering and sang a song of gratitude and hope. Because for Thommi after the suffering and death, there is the resurrection that Jesus has promised. The song writer of Classics like “Innu pagal Muzhuvan”, “Enth athisheyamme Daivathin Sneham” wrote his ever beautiful song “Ennod ullla Nin sarva nanmagalkay” on his death bed. The faith in Jesus challenges us to embrace suffering and death in our stride so that we can fly in the hope of resurrection.
Like Peter we too wish to be secure in faith declarations. That is important. But when we are faced with real choices in life to practice faith, we run for security and comfort. There is too much of noise around us but if there is silence we can hear Jesus rebuking us “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church