Mark arranges the stories in the gospel to consolidate his teaching points. During this chapter the hard heartedness, blindness and deafness of the scribes, Pharisees and the disciples is accentuated by Jesus healing a deaf man and now healing a blind man. The gradual healing of the man reveals the way the disciples are coming to understand step by step. This is the way grace works in our lives. We come to understand the mysterious ways of God in the world through gradual enlightenment punctuated by some “Aha!” moments.
Right after the man is healed Mark brings in one of the “Aha!” moments in the gospel. Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. They make some suggestions then Peter comes up with the answer: “You are the Messiah.” This story is told in more detail in Matthew’s gospel, where we learn the significance of this taking place at Caesarea Philippi. At that place was a great rocky outcrop with a temple on top to the god Pan. In the Matthew account, after Jesus confesses that he is “the Christ the Son of God” Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” The rocky outcrop with the temple on top was a visual image of Peter the rock on which Christ’s temple would be built.
If Peter is behind the gospel of Mark, we wonder why the more detailed account is not given here. The next passage explains why. Based on the sudden acknowledgement of Jesus’ true identity, Jesus gives the first prediction of his passion. The two are linked: the confession of who he is and then Jesus explains that he must be rejected, suffer, die and rise again. Mark says, “Jesus spoke clearly.” Suddenly all the mystery, all the “Messianic secret” all the telling people to be quite and not speak about what he did and who he was is over. Now Jesus is acknowledged as the Messiah and immediately he says that his mission is to suffer and die.
Peter, however, rejects this vision and rebukes Jesus for suggesting such a terrible thing. Jesus in turn rebukes Peter in the harshest terms calling him “Satan” and saying that he is thinking as humans do, and not as God. I believe what we see in these two stories is the utter humility of Peter. He does not promote his authority and his status as ‘the Rock’. Matthew does that. Instead, through Mark we see Peter’s faults. He acknowledges Jesus’ Messiahship, but then goes on to miss the point so badly that Jesus rebukes him. It is as if Peter (through Mark) is saying, “You see how dumb I’ve been? You see how stupid I was? May the Lord forgive me!”
The prediction of the passion becomes even stronger in the next passage where Jesus not only warns what will happen to him, but tells the disciples that they too must bear a cross. In the midst of the euphoria and excitement of Jesus’ ministry this must have come as a great shock. Everyone is thrilled with his hearings. They now acknowledge that he is the Messiah. They are ready to follow him, overthrow wicked King Herod and get rid of the Romans. They see him as the Son of David the King. He will restore their grandeur and power. He will be their leader and monarch.
Then he completely destroys their enthusiasm and says that he will be killed and they will also have a cross. No wonder so many soon began to turn against him as some sort of deluded, crazy preacher. Sensing their embarrassment and shame at what he is saying he adds fuel to the fire, warning them that whoever is ashamed of him he will be ashamed of on the day of glory. This is a constant lesson: the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It is the way of contradiction to the world’s standards of power, prestige and pleasure. The cross stands as a sign of contradiction to all our expectations. Is that something we are ashamed of or something we embrace?