This scene is the turning point in Mark’s gospel. Prior to this, everything Jesus does as a rabbi, a healer, and a miracle worker attracts crowds to him wherever he goes. The deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see, the dumb speak, and Jesus is the answer to everybody’s prayers. Now, however, he’s getting to the real point of his ‘shtick,’ and it’s hard for the disciples to hear, because things have been going so well so far.
Mark is the shortest of the gospels, but it’s a technical masterpiece. The very last healing story before this exchange is an example of Mark’s literary brilliance. Jesus heals a blind man – twice. Jesus lays hands on him once, and he can see people standing around like trees. Jesus lays hands on him a second time and he can discern the details of their features. Here, in the same way, Peter gets a glimpse of the big forest of God, confesses Christ as Messiah, but Jesus makes him look at the single tree that will become the cross of Christ, and Peter isn’t ready for the news.
Like Peter, we find such teachings tough to accept. We imagine there are more sensible and less costly ways of finding God’s will and purpose in our lives. As a result, we can become complacent about our faith. In spite of all that Christ has done and said, we have a difficult time with his terms, because Christ challenges our sensible ideas.
The ‘Word’ that Jesus speaks seems foreign and strange. Peter ‘rebukes’ the wisdom of Jesus. This is the same word used when Jesus ‘rebukes’ demons. Peter wants to ‘exorcise’ this idea from Jesus’ teaching. He is relying on his own understanding. He is drawing on his experience. He is so certain of what he knows that he is unable to hear what he doesn’t yet know.
Peter stands there, wrestling with his decision, but, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Peter stands with his foolishness exposed, raw and bloody, teetering on the brink between scornfulness and ‘teachableness.’ Jesus ups the ante, saying, “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”
John Calvin opens his momentous work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, saying, “true and sound wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves…What man does not remain as he is – so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own [character]?”
Calvin concludes that the fear of the LORD which wisdom calls us toward is in fact, humility. Humility results when we look beyond ourselves to seek God, and in finding (or being found by God) become “teachable.”
Holding this trilogy of related terms in mind, we can say that the fear of the LORD, which wisdom wants us to find, is nothing less than true humility, which is an attitude of teachableness.
Our lesson also makes the case that when an attitude of teachableness is absent in a person, it is a lack of humility and wisdom. It is “setting the mind on human rather than divine things.” It treats divine things scornfully, and this is why Mark’s Jesus ascribes the name “Accuser” to the character of Peter, who represents us, so long as we reflect his scornful, accusing posture. Let us not be simple; let us seek instruction. Let us not be foolish; let us accept reproof. Let us not be scornful; let us learn humility. As children of God, let us learn the humility of the cross, surrendering our lives in love to God and to our neighbors as ourselves. Let us heed the voice of wisdom.
Do we, like Peter, resist the cost of discipleship? Like Peter, do we resist the cost of loving others at the expense of our own lives? Of course we do. We drive about Cincinnati, one person per car. We dwell on blocks, or in neighborhoods, oblivious to our neighbors and their needs. Ideally, it seems, we pull up into our driveways, utilize our automatic garage door openers, and retire into the sanctuary of our own homes. This is our culture. This is what we value. These are the things and ideas of culture we have elevated above the things and culture of God. We have become “Accusers.” We need to become teachable, malleable, and changeable to follow Christ.