Magazine article The Christian Century

Suffering and Victory

Magazine article The Christian Century

Suffering and Victory

Article excerpt

Mark 8:31-38; Mark 9:2-9

LENT LEADS TO a set of powerful and paradoxical realities manifested in Holy Week and the paschal event: death and life, defeat and victory, crucifixion and resurrection. Chapters eight and nine of Mark set the tone for the Lenten journey and mirror its conclusion by inextricably binding together two dimensions of salvation: suffering in abandonment by God and fellow humans, and the fulfilling communion with God and fellow worshipers.

In the first passage Jesus tells his disciples what will happen to him: "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."

This is not what the disciples wanted to hear. Mark says that Peter, their spokesman, "took him, and rebuked him." We can imagine the strong, muscle-hardened Peter grabbing Jesus by the shoulders. "What are you talking about! You are a king; you're the Master. You make miracles happen! You have power! Say it isn't so!"

Jesus sees this as an important teaching moment. The disciples had to understand the absolute defeat of the cross or they would never understand the absolute victory of the empty tomb. "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus challenges Peter. "For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

The first part of this reading asserts the absolute requirement of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. There are many theological interpretations of the atonement, but Christian sources consistently affirm the centrality of the death of Jesus on the cross. His suffering will redeem all of humanity.

That is what makes the second reading from Mark so striking. In this description of the transfiguration, the holy transcendence and victorious divinity of the Christ are exalted and proclaimed.

In the Orthodox Church, the set of matin hymns known as the Transfiguration Katabasiai take as their subject matter a series of Old Testament victories manifesting divine power. The first ode celebrates the release of the Israelites from Babylon:

The choirs of Israel passed dry-shod

across the Red Sea and the

watery deep; and beholding the

riders and captains of the enemy

swallowed by the waters, they cried

out for joy: Let us sing unto our

God, for he has been glorified.

The attitude of the disciples at the transfiguration differs radically from their reaction to the foretelling of the crucifixion. Now Peter is positive and affirming. "Master, it is well that we are here." He proposes the erection of three booths as shrines for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. …

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