Who is Jesus? What say you? That question never stops challenging us. Peter gets the right answer. “You are the Messiah!” he declares. Let the celebrations begin! Think confetti cannons and dancing in the streets. This is the day the disciples have longed to see. God’s rule is returning to Israel. The long night of exile and occupation is finally over.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Messiah. Then Jesus explains what that means. Jesus says, “It’s necessary for the Son of Man to suffer horribly, to be declared deficient by the religious authorities, to be executed, and then to rise from the dead after three days.”
Excuse me, what? Just when it was going so well, too. In his head, Peter was already designing the announcements and business cards and letterhead. Can’t you just see it? “Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah.” And underneath, “Simon of Bethsaida, Chief Operating Officer.” Suffering? Rejection? Death?
There must be some mistake.
What we have here is a real “frame buster.” As in, frame of reference. As in “does not compute.” What Jesus says doesn’t fit the way Peter sees the world, so Peter can’t see it.
Years ago, psychologists did a perception experiment. They showed people pictures of playing cards for just fractions of a second. These were normal playing cards with one exception. The scientists put a funny card – a red Ace of Spades – into the deck.
More than three-quarters of the test subjects didn’t see the funny card. A few noticed right away. A few more knew something was wrong, but they couldn’t say what it was. But most people didn’t – couldn’t – see what was right in front of them. They couldn’t see the red Ace of Spades because it didn’t fit what they expected to see.
A suffering Messiah is like that red Ace of Spades. It’s a real frame-buster. It’s no wonder Peter takes Jesus aside to set him straight. All this suffering Messiah business was just crazy talk. Everyone knew the Messiah was supposed to come and kick some Gentile booty! How was Jesus supposed to do that when he was despised and dead?
To be fair to Peter, no one could have seen it coming. And no one did. Except Jesus. Jesus announces the whole new world in Mark 1:15 – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
This whole new world requires “repentance.” You may recall from last week that this repentance is not about feeling sad and sorry for sins. This repentance means accepting a whole new way of seeing that whole new world. Marcel Proust said well. “The real voyage of discovery,” he wrote, “consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
That’s what repentance really is. It’s accepting all new eyes to see this whole new world.
It’s a lot to ask of stumbling, bumbling, fumbling disciples like Peter – and like me. Peter pushes back, and then he wishes he hadn’t. “You! You, you…Satan!” Jesus growls. “Get out of my face! You are clutching at your human framework rather than grasping God’s framework. Leave me alone!”
Satan? Now, that’s a bit harsh, Jesus, don’t you think? No, it isn’t. Testing Jesus’ identity, vocation, and mission is where this story started, remember? We heard it last week. In Mark 1:12, we heard that right after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit blew him out into the wild places. Jesus spent forty days with Satan, having his identity, vocation and mission tested to the limit.
It seems, now, that the testing wasn’t over. Peter gets the same boot in the backside Jesus administered to the Tester in the wilderness. A whole new world needs all new eyes.
The world under the powers of sin, death, and evil is, as Richard Swanson says, upside down. Jesus comes to turn the world right-side up. But we’re so used to seeing things upside down that a right-side up world looks terrifying at first. We’re good at seeing the world upside down. It’s all we’ve ever known.
A Dutch experimenter created a pair of “upside down” glasses in order to test how humans perceive things. He wore them for two weeks to see if he could adjust. For the first few days it was pretty awful. He couldn’t hit a teacup with hot water. He fell off his bike. He could barely manage the stairs. But it didn’t take long, and his brain adjusted. It flipped the images, and he began to function normally.
Of course, when he took the glasses off, his brain had to go through the adjustment process all over again. We can adjust pretty readily to an upside-down world. When the world is flipped right-side up, that seems uncomfortable and crazy and dangerous. But having our vision flipped is what repentance really feels like.
Jesus describes what it means to follow him into God’s whole new world. It will seem like everything has been turned upside-down, even though it’s right-side up. “If you want to follow me, then put yourself aside and carry your cross as I carry mine. What looks like saving your life is really losing it. And what looks like losing your life for me – and for the gospel – is really saving it.”
What we have here is a real frame-buster. Up becomes down, and down becomes up. Up until this moment, it’s been business as usual. In God’s whole new world, nothing can be the same. When frames get busted, it feels like crucifixion – and sometimes it is. That happens because our old ways of seeing and thinking and living have to die. Of course, that’s terrifying.
And it’s useless. Unless there’s something more.
Spoiler alert – Peter and the disciples really don’t get it until after Easter. God’s whole new world comes with a cross, a death, a burial, and an empty tomb. No one could really see the world right side up without that revolution of death and life.
Jesus’ resurrection is not just a new event in the same old world. Jesus’ resurrection is the whole new world. And a whole new world needs all new eyes.
I know it’s Lent, and we’re supposed to stick with the Cross for a while. But here’s another spoiler alert. God wins at Easter! And nothing can be the same after that. Following Jesus means seeing a whole new world with all new eyes. It means living as if the world is already right-side up.
The powers that benefit from an upside-down world will not go quietly. Jesus declares that the suffering, rejection, and cross are “necessary.” Here’s what that means. When you live right-side up in an upside-down world, it will be uncomfortable and painful to learn to see right-side up. And when you live right-side up in an upside-down world, crosses will find you. You won’t have to go looking for them.
This would be even more terrifying if it all depended on me…and you. But it doesn’t. I think about how the Apostle Paul puts this to work in Galatians 2:19-20. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul writes, “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The beginning of the Christian journey is accepting the gift of all new eyes. Christ lives in me by faith, and I trust that gift of a whole new world. Because of that gift, I can accept the gift of all new eyes – repentance – every day. And I can be part of the struggle to live right-side up in a world still committed to being upside-down.
This Christian journey is a real frame-buster. And a whole new world needs all new eyes.
The journey takes place in my heart and mind and spirit. I am struggling against my own racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism and all the other “isms” that demand I see the world upside-down. Every day I need to say, “Satan, get out of my face.” Of course, I find that Satan is not in my face but is rather wearing my face. So, this is a real battle.
Perhaps you share that struggle. Living right-side up is challenging and sometimes painful. But, for my money, that’s where the real life is.
This Christian journey is a real frame-buster. The journey takes place in the world where I live. Jesus calls me to be an ally with the oppressed and an accomplice to real, earth-shaking, frame-busting change. That’s what taking up my cross looks like. I don’t have to build my own cross, remember. Following Jesus means the crosses will find me.
Part of that journey these days is about who Jesus is, and whose Jesus is. Look, Jesus is not white. Jesus is not a preview of John Wayne. Jesus is not the world’s greatest salesman. Jesus is not a liberal politician or a conservative one. Jesus is not a capitalist – or a socialist or a communist. Jesus is not a fairy godfather or godmother. Jesus is not a staunch defender of family values. Jesus is not my personal guarantee of wealth, privilege, and comfort. Jesus is not American. Jesus, in his earthly ministry, is not Christian.
Jesus is God among us – busting our frames, turning the world right-side up, and offering us new eyes for a whole new world.
Is that something you want to look into?