Mark 8:36

What good is it to a person to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

why would people gain
their fondest dream
when such dreams
have no end

a realized dream
is a sad ending
to a journey concluded
before it began

life invites life
to ebb and flow
with thankful memories
and next larger calls

“Life” (Hebraic concept) is the preferable translation in these three verses, 8:35–37, to “soul” (Greek construct). There are implications to the interplay of gain and loss, fullness and emptiness, fulfillment and desolation, foreground and background.

The emptying of soul to arrive at life needs a maturity unattached to age or stage. David Galston, in God’s Human Future: The Struggle to Define Theology Today90, speaks about this whole denial, emptying process:

Emptiness is not a let down; it has nothing to do with disappointment. It is awakening. It is part of recognizing the “now-ness” of time, the way time is not set on a predetermined course but is open to new possibilities. The energy of a parable is its vision carved into story in order to awaken the immediate gift of awareness, the recognition of the possible, and realization that the “now” is both all we have all the universe has to offer. The crime is to forfeit the fullness of this emptiness for the deceptive fullness of dogmatic securities.

Sabin-1’s162 use of Wisdom writings and midrash processes also come into play here.

In the Wisdom writings, Wisdom is personified as a woman—inclusively nurturing, attractive and elusive, ceaselessly restoring order and attentive to whatever is life-giving. Mark portrays Jesus as a person with these very qualities of being. In so doing, he also portrays him as the opposite of the typical male hero of ancient writings— who is conventionally royal, rational, and powerful.

These two resources bring needed human/femine perspectives to a difficult conversation about meaning in what Althea Spencer-Miller describes as our current power paradigm of an “Eurocentric hetero-masculine Umwelten”.

This question refocuses a mission of “fishers of people” by shifting the appeal of an attractive call to the realities of living that vision within any economic system that offers gain. The urgent need is for “wilderness” and “emptiness”—a transfiguration of such a temptation.

Mark 8:35

For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, and whoever, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, will lose their life will save it.

salvation presupposes evil
and its overcoming
one deus ex machina after another

lost to self in a larger G*D
is not a satisfactory process
regardless of how time-tested it is

whatever comes from a changed heart
participation in a present paradise
will simply be enough

easy judgments of lost and won
will fade in a partnering
beyond expected consequences

“Denial” is “a denial of one’s own presumed prerogatives or personal interests”, Bratcher 266.

This dives deeper than death, which comes to everyone. Here it gets very personal with expectations and power. No matter how small the hope or the privilege, we will do what we can to preserve our image. This stands behind the whole dynamic of colonial rule of dividing the local populace by having one portion police another. It accounts for the crassest discrimination coming from the next higher social strata to those being denied their whole humanity on the basis of one characteristic or another.

The reference to “good news” reminds us to check back with previous uses of that phrase. We are reminded in 1:1 that we are dealing with a process, not a static condition. In a sense we are always beginning to enter into a better tomorrow. This beginning spot is furthered in 1:15 when “good news” is not only about fulfillment, but present transformation or repentance in light of trusting such a vision.

This helps us listen to other language experiences with examples of denial from Bratcher266:
“to not worship oneself” (Mixtec),
“to not belong to oneself any longer” (Conob),
“to let go that which he wants to do himself” (Kiyaka),
“to not do what is passing through his mind” (Putu),
“to undo one’s own way of thinking” (Totonac),
“to leave himself at the side” (Huastec).

This, in turn, then brings us back to our larger self and to ask how we would translate this into the setting of our own life and the lives of our communal settings. Without updating our situation, it will take a third and fourth attempt by Life to bring us to attention.

Mark 8:34

Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said,“If anyone wishes to walk in my steps, they must renounce self, take up their cross, and follow me.

see we are yet together
recommitted to a common journey
of spirit-plaining
increasing a beachhead here
eroding a headland there

mutual support and correction
to bolster larger intention
and hone prickly egos
until turning by turning
suffering comes ’round right

by double-crossed joy
betrayals step back
from privileged compulsion
to betray in turn
until crosses are crossed off

Joanna Dewey’s chapter in Levine35 describes a key difference in understanding this verse in the 1st Century and the 21st.

In modern Western post-Enlightenment societies the basic unit of society is understood to be the individual self. In such a culture, to renounce oneself comes to mean to renounce one’s very individuality. In antiquity, however, and indeed in much of the world still today, the basic unit of society is not the individual person but the multi-generational kinship group.

This leads Dewey to see a chiastic pattern critical to understanding this verse and not superimposing today’s world on a prior world.

A   If any want to follow after me,
B   let them renounce themselves [that is, deny kin]
B’  and take up their cross [that is, risk persecution]
A’  and follow me.

This is an important corrective to the kind of individualism that ends up in literalism and/or fundamentalism, whether Peter’s or our current capitalist variant.

When restarting to make the same point about a known arc of responsibility and consequence, Jesus returns to his wilderness experience of belovedness that includes an emptying of self to move beyond a temptation and encompass it in a larger view from its rear. Bratcher265 gives the alternative reading, “he must give up all claims upon himself”. This moves in the direction of continuing to move into a space beyond our location within a culture or current iteration of our personal identity. This larger mystic claim of unity with a larger future, is critical to dealing with fears of punishment and shame.

Mark 8:33

Jesus, however, turning around and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter. “Out of my sight, Satan!” he exclaimed. “For you look at things, not as God does, but as people do.”

how gentle can a rebuke be
our competitive culture
resists restful relationships

anger flares where listening stops
blame erupts right righteously
claiming ultimate ground

once in awhile we can retranslate
a banishment to the end of the queue
into a climbing back on the wagon

come gather again
as we practice inviting
larger circles to hold steadfast

When called, Peter turned toward Jesus. With his calling Jesus away from what was identified as an expected first outcome of challenging power, Peter is told to go back where he came from.

This isn’t told directly. Jesus doesn’t address Peter face to face, rebuke to rebuke, scold to scold. Jesus has already turned around physically and finds the Satan not only with Peter, but with the disciples he is now looking at (and the reader who is looking in). There is wilderness all around.

Aichele105 helps us put this powerful language into a larger context: “It is a situation of open conflict between Peter’s messiah language and Jesus’ son of man language.” Now we can hold verses 8:29 and 8:31 together and explore their relationship.

This brings to a head tensions that have been brewing between expectations of carrying on the baggage of the past with a new understanding of what is good—as in good news. Peter’s Messiah does not carry Isaiah’s Suffering Servant within and through their being. Jesus’ son-of-man is all too weak (it is helpful here to read John Caputo’s, The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional).

All language is metaphoric, multivalent. LaVerdiere-231, notes that being behind or following after someone is not a matter of banishment but a call to revival. He mentions Baptizer John announcing someone coming after him and the call of the disciples to follow behind Jesus. We are also set up to hear this in the next verse spoken to the crowd who would come after him (including the reader).

Try this translation from Swanson291, “But Jesus, after he turned and saw his disciples, scolded Peter”. Would Jesus have been silent about this if there weren’t an audience?

Mark 8:32

He said all this quite openly. But Peter took Jesus aside, and began to rebuke him.

clarity builds resistance
we now see
there is no exit
but through beloved birth
into test after test

when we can no longer evade
the consequences of life
an easy accommodation escapes
our gifts and grasp
enacted sadness rises

messengers of changed hearts
are blamable for our caughtness
between our past avoidance
and tomorrow’s glowing hope
which leaves us not alone

we dodge quietly as we can
until finally we noisily rail
against our pre-dawn cold
unable to let go
too panicked to grab hold

“Peter was not specifically commanding Jesus to quit talking in this way, so much as condemning his thinking and planning such a course of action as would lead to this result. If this meaning can be conveyed by a rendering such as ‘said to him, Don’t talk this way’, a relatively close equivalent of the Greek will have been found.” ~Bratcher264.

Here we have a direct denial of the consequence of prophetic action by those first called to carry a message of good repentance. To Jesus’ “Yes!”, comes Peter’s “No!”

In the next two teachings that repeat this understanding of the way the real world acts, there will follow ironic acts by the Twelve that directly contradict the message being given.

In all three occurrences, we find a pattern that indicates Mark is writing to his readers, not transcribing history. Malbon’s chapter on “Narrative Criticism” in Anderson40 notes, “After each misunderstanding, Jesus renews his teaching on this topic. Of course, each time Jesus teaches the disciples, the implied author teaches the implied reader. Repetition adds clarity and force.” Likewise, Fowler’s chapter of “Reader-Response Criticism” [Anderson69] puts it this way, “No one in the story seems to learn anything from these predictions. The reader, by contrast, cannot help but be educated by these signposts to future moments in the narrative.”

Together we are pushed to take a deep breath and consider what would need to change in our life and context that would lead us to humbly and forthrightly affirm Jesus’ analysis for ourself.

Mark 8:31

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo much suffering, and that he must be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law, and be put to death, and rise again after three days.

original fear
touches deep
each life

terror needs facing
whether moving outward
or speeding toward

there is a sharp knife
hiding beneath suffering
ready for mean harm

first we receive
generations of feuding
mutual rejection

until even resurrection
is reverse terrorism
continuing fear’s way

our work is human-size
breathing deep
listening deeper

– – – — – –

[thanks to Thick Nhat Hanh and Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm]

Even before calling disciples and engaging them in larger life, Jesus engaged the wilderness after being tempted to let Belovedness go to his head. His first proclamation had to do with repenting and trusting. Both of these are proto-teachings on encountering real life. In this world larger life requires the leaving of smaller living and that smallness is evident in its desire to cling on to a next generation, to not let go in a season of harvest.

Here is the δεῖ, the “necessity”, the “need”, the “must” that grows out of what Paul will later quote from a song of Jesus’ followers:

While created beloved,

we do not claim a privilege

to exploit others

but a partnership with all.

Sabin-1140, in her discussion of “Son of Man” equaling “Son of Adam” suggests substituting “human beings” for “Son of Man”. This leads her to later note, “…in a real sense Jesus is indicating that his pattern of suffering and death and rising again, is—or could be— paradigmatic for every human being.” Thankfully, Sabin-1143 goes on to remove the conditional phrase and come to, “…death and resurrection is special to the beloved son and at the same time normative.”

Given the difficulty we have in our own journey to wilderness belovedness, this same teaching returns in 9:31 and 10:32-34.

Mark 8:30

At which Jesus charged them not to say this about him to anyone.

there is nothing more to tell
we have arrived where rules falter

any explanation offered reduces
next available responses

to say anything more than nothing
turns our more to dusty vanity

our Barnum boasts always disappoint
leaving no doubt of our suckerhood


Peter just gave the “right” answer and this is the thanks he gets, “Keep it to yourself. No one is to know you got this one.”

It is easy to turn this into support for some Messianic secret Mark is trying to keep with the larger and smaller silences that keep coming around. But, given the multiplicity of understandings about a Messiah, it may be better to stick with the likely need for continued growth in understanding before being too carried away with a bumper-sticker title.

This need for more understanding than a multivalent term such as Messiah has Myers101 using an intriguing image, “But, to our chagrin, Peter is immediately silenced by Jesus, as if he were just another demon trying to ‘name’ Jesus (see 1:26, 3:12)!”

This has a two-fold practical result of not inflaming the Roman and Temple leadership to more aggressively come after Jesus, as well as leaving open clarification of what Jesus understands about his Blessing and Testing that is different than other traditions. This delay in clarity will, at some point, lead to a recognition of irreconcilable differences that will need to be faced.

“Messiah”, too easily claimed or bestowed can be expected to fail yet one more time. To set forth a Leader as the solution to present ills as though that one is the only one who can make things right, begins a trail toward a distanced autocrat or dictator based on anger—an angry G*D and angry Messiah and angry Leader. To place all of a culture’s eggs in one basket is asking for a civil war to finally come out of its cold-war phase, to some form of assured mutual destruction as one Messiah sect does in the next, until the circle is complete and there is not even one left.

Such a well-worn term as Messiah carries with it a multitude of false understandings in great need of winnowing. Simply putting a marker here, leaves an openness for a needed next conversation.


Yesterday, Halloween, was the eve of a hallowed time. November is going to be a hallowed time for me. If all goes well this blog will return in December.

Between now and then, I invite you to attend to one small detail per day. That’s the way habits are established and mystery revealed.

Blessings on your November.


Mark 8:29

“But you,” he asked, “who do you say that I am?” To this Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”

when push finally comes to shove
there are no more approximations
available to be hauled out

no longer is it who we are like
but who we are alone
in our wilderness

through our testings
our retreat response
affirms a rocky core

you are I am
I know for I am you
together we’re beyond either

wider than a sectarian Christ
older than a Messiah placeholder
an unqualified Beloved moving on

There is no wiggling out of this question. The Greek here is emphatic—“You, yes you! You must respond!”

The Twelve are being asked about Jesus’ being—his “I AMness”. We all have this about ourself and so it is helpful to know one’s own “I AMness” if you are going to speak of another’s.

Peter is both assertive and cagey in his response. What is recorded as Χριστός (Christos, Christ/Anointed One) stands for the term of the time—Messiah—which is my choice for a translation.

Listen to Sabin75 speak of Messiah and you’ll see how slippery Peter’s response is.

Contrary to popular belief, recent scholarship has shown that there was no single, fixed concept of “the Messiah” within Judaism of the first century. The term, which in Hebrew simply means “the anointed one,” was used variably, both in the Hebrew Bible and in other Jewish writing that were contemporaneous with Jesus and Mark. Within the Hebrew Bible, it is most often applied to a king, but also to a high priest or a patriarch. Isaiah applied it to the Persian king Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to go home to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. In the Jewish writings outside the Bible, the term is variously applied to a teacher, a warrior, and a judge. The Dead Sea Scrolls anticipated the coming of two messiahs, a king and a high priest. In short, one cannot pin the term down to a particular definition but must acknowledge that it was generally used to indicate any figure whom the faith-community saw as God’s representative, someone who was doing God’s work on its behalf.

Don’t lose track of the “warrior” image as there will be continuous testing for Jesus to move in this direction. And don’t forget your own “I AMness”.

Mark 8:28

“John the Baptist,” they answered, “but others say Elijah, while others say one of the prophets.”

we know what we know
and this little bit
we use and recycle
seeing it everywhere

in specific or general
we are stuck
on our meaning plateau
awaiting a next insight

until there is growth
to be carried on
we circle our heroes
naming them one by one

Dipper John
Leather-belted Elijah
Whispering Jonah
Dancing Miriam

Within their bounds
we bind our responses
bouncing from judge to prophet
in search of a larger justice

Are you remembering 6:14–15 where Herod is hearing exactly these same rumors. We each are a part of a cultural rumor, urban legend, fake news system. It is a background of perceptions among which we either choose or find ourselves drawn to as a result of our genetic make-up or prior experiences pre-dispose us to.

It takes a conversion experience to begin considering a move outside whatever choir we are currently part of. This is prelude to a repentance that can lead to changed hearts and lives.

A more cynical approach would have a narcissist being able to switch categories at a moments notice to take advantage of whatever will bring them praise and adulation they are convinced is already theirs.

Not only are we always fighting the last war, we are looking for a last leader. The people listed in the stanza above are energetic movers-and-shakers, not gentle and mild shepherds. There is fire and energy in them that was noticed by others, perhaps jealously so.

They are also counter-cultural. The stasis of institutions seems to require great energy to call it to account for having lost its way. There is a roughness here that cannot be contained in the shrouds within which the institution has wrapped itself and its heroes.

Consider a recent call, hundreds of years late, to remove monuments to Confederates who lost their war to keep slavery. Note the difficulty to affect cultural mores even after more than a hundred straight days of a mass shooting that kills 4 or more.