Environmental Stewardship Commission
(MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection
Gospel Lesson
Year C, Proper 7

Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God." He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 

NRSV
Copyright Statement
Reflection on Luke 9:18-24
by John Gibbs, PhD

NOTE:  This reflection is combined with a reflection on the New Testament Lesson (Galatians 3:23-29) and appears on both pages.

Both Luke and Paul, for all their differences of emphasis, came out of the one early Church, and shared the same faith.  Both of them see the continuity from cross to resurrection, and both of them look back through the resurrection to see the cross.

When Luke focuses on Jesus’ coming Passion, he does so in resurrection light, affirming that Jesus is, as Peter says, “the Messiah of God.”  When Paul emphasizes that we are “heirs according to the promise,” he does so on the basis that we “were baptized into Christ,” which means as he has already said in this letter, “I have been crucified with Christ” (2:19), and as he later wrote to the Romans (6:3), “all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death.”

In the texts for today, both Luke and Paul write about sacrifice and promise, losing one’s life for the Risen One, and being saved by the Crucified One.  Both declare that self-preservation (being saved, or going to heaven) is not the goal of the Christian life.  The point is rather to invest our selves and our church in God’s cause, to spend and be spent in becoming “followers” of the risen crucified One.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection we live not for ourselves but for others, and “for the greater glory of God,” as J. S. Bach dedicated one of his compositions.

A dark departure from this unity of cross/resurrection exists in many Passion plays, and apparently in Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion.”  When the resurrection is confined to a concluding comment on the story of Jesus’ sufferings, then what we are left with is a “Braveheart Jesus,” as one critic of the film put it.

Heroism, however strong, is no substitute for Jesus resurrection.  Gibson may not have intended it to be, but those who have viewed the film report that the light of the resurrection does not illumine the film’s story of the Passion in the way that it pervades the gospels’ story of the Passion.  [See 3 reviews of the film in The Christian Century, March 23, 2004, pp. 18-23; and one by David Denby in The New Yorker, March 1, 2004, pp. 84-86.]  It would be a tragedy of lost opportunity if, as David Denby maintains, Gibson’s “fixation” on “the scourging and crushing of Christ,” and his neglect of “the spiritual meanings of the final hours” are so severe “that he falls in danger of altering Jesus’ message of love into one of hate” (p. 84).

In any case, our identity is wrapped up in Jesus’ identity, and perhaps for us as for him the only safe time for dealing with any identity crisis is under the influence of prayer (Luke 9:18).  Jesus knew that apart from resurrection faith, the demands of discipleship could be and likely would be twisted out of shape into some kind of self-flagellation, some kind of sick self-denial that would subvert the capacity of the resurrection to help us love ourselves enough to be able to love others.  For that reason he forbade letting the word out to people who had no way to believe in the resurrection, the word that the way of the Messiah and his followers is the way of suffering, rejection, and death, only then followed by resurrection.

Surely it is obvious that the acquisitive society in the so-called First World runs directly against the resurrection power of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “redemptive suffering.”  If you pay any CEO 700 or more times as much as you pay his or her lowest wage earner, that discrepancy tells us how little you think of or about the “lowliest” among us. In 1997 the richest 1% of Americans earned more than $600,000 after taxes. From 1977-94 the top 1% income received by taxpayers in this country increased 72% while at the same time the middle quintile of income decreased 1%, and the lowest 20% of income shrank 16%.  When we then cut the taxes of that 1% in far greater proportion than we provide tax relief to anyone else, we commit a morally reprehensible act, when that act is measured by the standard of redemptive suffering.  [These figures are reported by Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy (NY: Broadway, 2002).]

To this immoral and dangerous chasm between rich and poor, now add degradation of the environment, refusal to develop sources of energy that are alternatives to fossil fuels and that help us escape from dependence on foreign oil, and you begin to see the tragic weakness of God’s kind of People in our time.  And, let us hope, we begin to pray for a new identity for ourselves and for our culture.  Let us forsake our fears, embrace the hope that is set before us, and live like heirs of a great promise that reaches back to Abraham. 

Copyright
Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament
(Hebrew Scripture)
Zechariah 12:8-10;13:1
no reflection available
Psalm
63
no reflection available
New Testament
Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel
Luke 9:18-24
this page
Additional Reflections:
Last Sunday's 
Gospel
 
Next Sunday's 
Gospel
no reflection available


John Gibbs, PhD, is a retired theologian, who attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 2004.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
 
 
MEESC
Holy Trinity Church 
Box 65 
Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the web site.


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