Commentary on Mark 8:31-38
Was Peter so wrong?
Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for declaring openly that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, rejection, and even death. Peter did so because Jesus, not that long ago, had sternly ordered Peter (and the other disciples) not to tell anyone about him (8:27–30). Peter kept quiet; he was secretive about it. And now, Peter is accused of setting his mind on human things (verse 33) for reminding Jesus about the modus operandi or the mode of secrecy found throughout Mark.
It seems that the other disciples had also heard of this discombobulating accusation. In 9:30–32, when Jesus declares for the third time that he will be betrayed and killed, the disciples are so perplexed and afraid that they do not even bother to ask for clarification at all.
On the one hand, Jesus seems to forbid others to proclaim that he is the Messiah or to tell about what he has done (1:34, 44; 4:11–12, 33–34; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30). On the other, Jesus declares to the crowd and his disciples not only his identity but also the nature of the kin-dom of God and the expectations in becoming disciples of Jesus (1:15, 38; 2:1–12, 17, 19–22, 28; 3:35; 5:35; 6:2, 34). Mark 8:31–38 manifests this ambiguity between openness and secrecy, loquaciousness and reticence. This theme of ambiguity is also paired with paradox in verse 35: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (New Revised Standard Version updated edition).
Another suffering? Another rejection? After being called out by Jesus, Peter now has to listen to Jesus’ inconceivable and defeatist expectations for discipleship: deny oneself, take up the cross, and lose your life (verse 34–37). Peter probably has heard of this kind of horrific expectation from the Roman Empire. Pax Romana (or the so-called Roman Peace) promised peace in exchange for denying oneself for the empire, taking up the burden of taxation and forced labor, and even sacrificial death at the behest of the empire. Listening to the Markan Jesus sounds like listening to the Roman emperors, the “sons of God,” the so-called saviors. This time, Jesus seems to be declaring himself to be more powerful and benevolent than those Roman emperors.1
The Messiah also demands that his followers suffer for the gospel even if it leads to death. Questioning this demand has consequences because the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father and with the holy angels (verse 38). What then is Peter supposed to do?
In spite of it all, Peter has denied himself. He left everything behind and followed Jesus. Until he denies Jesus in 14:66–72, Peter has not been portrayed as ashamed of the Son of Man. Peter is the disciple who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (8:29). As a colonized person, Peter calculated the cost of discipleship; he knew what he was getting himself into and still followed Jesus.
We do not know Peter’s response or reaction after he is berated by Jesus in 8:33. Is he silent? Does he retort? What does he feel? Here, many of us resonate with Peter. We have already lost, sacrificed, and denied. We feel like there is nothing left to lose for the gospel. Still, we get berated again and again.
After three days he will rise again (verse 31)
The hope of resurrection is heavy. The wait is taxing. The uncertain future is exhausting. And yet we believe, because the hope of resurrection reflects how life is in the first place. Life is ambiguous, unpredictable, and mysterious. Following Jesus was never meant to make life easy, predictable, and obvious. Rather, the hope of resurrection validates where we are, the life that we live. We are seen by God. To take up the cross is nothing new, especially for those who are already living such a life.
That is why we are called to not be ashamed of our lives burdened by oppressive crosses. The hope of resurrection invites us to believe that the Son of Man also lived this life of rejection and suffering. As Pheme Perkins states: “God does not delight in human suffering. … Yet danger lies in concluding that suffering and self-sacrifice are always undesirable.”2 The worst thing that we could do is to act like suffering and self-sacrifice are not real or not part of Christian life. For God to be with us is already an embodied reminder that the hope of resurrection began with the here and now. As we carry the burden of the cross with us, we hope because we believe that we will also be raised with the Messiah.
In his silence, Peter understands this reality of ambiguity, paradox, and an uncertain hope of resurrection. Peter gets it. And those of us who live lives with the burden of oppressive crosses also get it. We hope for the resurrection because we feel the resurrection in our bodies and in our spirits.
- Adam Winn, “The Gospel of Mark: A Response to Imperial Propaganda,” in An Introduction to Empire in the New Testament, ed. Adam Winn (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016), 91–106.
- Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 625–626.