“According to that great font of wisdom, Yogi Berra, ‘If you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ Mark 8 is a kind of theological fork in the road. This chapter is the hinge of Mark’s gospel. Not only is this the exact middle of Mark in terms of chapters and verses, it is also theologically the center point at which the ministry of Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross. Jesus seems to know what he is doing and also where he is going.
“For the disciples, however, Mark 8 does present a kind of fork in the road. And like Yogi Berra, as they look at the fork in the road, they want to take it. They want it both ways. They want to stick with Jesus and be his followers while at the same time insisting that Jesus follow them down the path they want to take.”
When Jesus makes his first passion warning, Jesus is preparing for his final journey. Part of that preparation is to teach and warn his followers about what is coming. When this happens, it is the farthest distance from Jerusalem that Jesus went during his ministry, Caesarea Philippi. This is also near the source of the Jordan River.
This is gentile territory. Jesus also seems to want some alone time with the disciples, far away from the crowds around Galilee, far away from the religious authorities. After this, Jesus heads south to Jerusalem.
Peter had just prior to this warning made the bold statement that Jesus is the messiah. And what is typical in Mark, Jesus warns them not to tell anyone who he is. Jesus has already silenced demons from blowing Jesus’ cover. People healed by Jesus were told, unsuccessfully, to keep things under their hat about who Jesus is. Peter, who after witnessing all of this over the last maybe two years, has figured out that Jesus is the messiah.
The religious authorities already believed that Jesus is a threat to their authority. Otherwise why would they spend the time, energy, and money to send representatives to challenge Jesus? Jesus has repeatedly embarrassed them in public. Failing to discredit Jesus will lead them to more desperate acts.
Jesus says the Son of Man will be rejected by the religious authorities, which is already the status quo and will be killed and then rise again three days later. Since we already know how this prediction plays out, we might think to ourselves, “Yes, we know what is going to happen.”
But what Jesus says should have us scratch our heads. Jesus, despite the phrase about saying all of this openly, is quite obtuse. Jesus does not say, I am going to be rejected, killed and rise gain. Jesus says that this will happen to the “Son of Man.” Is Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man or is he talking about someone else or speaking metaphorically?
If we read the passage literally, we discover that every person is meant, inclusively, as the Son of Man. We are all born of a human being. We have human parents. Man here is translated from the Greek anthopos, which is where we get the word anthropology, referring to the human race. In Hebrew it is ben adam, son of a human being.
This term appears many times in the Old Testament. God refers to the prophet Ezekiel as ben adam. It is in Daniel that the term gets weirded out. Much of Daniel is apocalyptic, the end times. Daniel sees one coming on the clouds like a son of man. Daniel may mean here using the simile that this cloud figure is a heavenly being who looks like a human being. Daniel gives this personage royal titles. By Jesus’ time the term Son of Man is used to designate a righteous Davidic king.
Did Jesus mean to refer to himself as the Son of Man? Do we know for sure that Jesus really said this or is this a literary device that Mark uses? We don’t know! But it does keep theologians employed. We do know that Mark’s Jesus likes to have a secret identity, but without Clark Kent’s glasses. Mark may well mean that the suffering man will become the exalted, resurrected Son of Man.
Well whatever Jesus meant, Peter was quick enough to decide Jesus was talking about himself and Peter will have none of it. Peter has the guts to tell Jesus off. Jesus then looks at his audience and may worry he is losing them, especially after getting a public chewing out. A power struggle was happening and Jesus knew it needed to be resolved quickly.
Jesus looks at the disciples and calls Peter Satan. After all, Peter is tempting Jesus to not follow through with the path that awaits him. Peter’s focus is selfish. Peter is defying the divine plan. Peter can get behind Jesus and what Jesus plans to do or, basically, Jesus is telling Peter that he is free to leave.
So Jesus calls everyone together. Jesus tells them that road is tough and if they don’t wish to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause then they can go home. Jesus is graphic.
The disciples know what a cross is and what it’s for. It is for insurgents to die a slow, agonizing death. The Romans put crosses up like we put up billboards. The message: don’t ever challenge the empire. The Romans had refined brutality to an art form. When Jesus was about ten years old, 2,000 Galileans were crucified. That probably left an impression on the young Jesus.
To a people who often see their friends and acquaintances who dared to defy Rome hanging off of crosses, for Jesus to tell them to take up their crosses would be gut wrenching. If you follow Jesus, prepare to be executed.
You see, we cannot live until we die. That’s what Peter didn’t get. Whether we die of old age, die being run over by a donkey, or die on a cross, no matter what it is we won’t stay dead. We can spread our arms out on the bow of the Titanic and say, “I am king of the World,” but in the end we will die of hypothermia.
There is a story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief’s forehead with the letters ST which stood for sheep thief. As a result of this, one brother left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place indelibly marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and neighbor to the townspeople. He lived out his life in the village – an old man loved by all.
One day a stranger came to town and inquired about the ST on the old man’s forehead. “I’m not sure what it means,” another told him. “It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint.”
We have a choice. We can lay down the cross we have been given to bear and passively live life with no challenge to change or we can take it up and be transformed, living for something greater than ourselves: The Kingdom of God. The choice is ours. We can take it up or we can lay it down.
Text: Mark 8:31–38
 Scott Hoezee, The Lenten Fork