Gospel of Mark 8:31-38
31 Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great
suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and after three days rise again.  32 He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  33 But turning and looking
at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you
are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to
become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and
follow me.  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.  36 For
what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their
life?  37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  38 Those who are
ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of
them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his
Father with the holy angels.”

Everything seemed to be going well. Jesus had healed and fed a mind-
boggling number. His compassion won over a lot of people. Although his
hometown folk were left confused and troubled, others listened and accepted
Jesus’ words.
His disciples started seeing Jesus, not only as a Jewish rabbi, but as God’s
prophetic voice. Peter even called Jesus ‘Messiah’.
There were some religious elite who challenged Jesus. But he held his
ground. All in all, things seemed to be going well. That is, until Jesus dropped a
staggering bombshell: “The Son of Man, the Messiah, must undergo great
suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be
killed, and after three days rise again.”
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk; and friends don’t let friends imagine
the worst.
Peter gets an unfair reputation from this story. But Peter was just being a
good friend, and a faithful follower of the one he proclaimed as God’s awaited
Messiah. He didn’t want to hear Jesus talking so horribly. He didn’t want to
entertain any thoughts of Jesus suffering. Peter’s mind refused to accept any harm

coming to Jesus, let alone a prophetic vision of Jesus’ death, accompanied by an
incomprehensible image of a dead Jesus rising from the grave.
But Jesus responded harshly to Peter: “Get behind me Satan.”
Jesus was determined to fulfill his prophetic vision, if it was God’s will. Jesus
trusted God enough to place his life in God’s hands. Even if his friends couldn’t
fathom or accept his fate, Jesus was committed to following through for the sake of
his deep love for God, for the sake of his life’s message and mission, and for the
sake of all God’s children of every generation. One day, his friends would
understand.
Jesus went on to speak about picking up one’s cross. Those listening would
have been horrified. A cross was a tool of torture. It was an instrument of fear and
control used by the Roman Empire. The sight of a cross would conjure up great
anger and anxiety. Crosses with human bodies tied or nailed to them often lined
roadways as reminders of submission to Rome’s ultimate power. No one in first-
century Palestine would conceive of picking up a cross and following Jesus. But
that’s what he asked of them.
Jesus perceived the cross he proposed as submission, not to Rome, but to
God. Jesus understood one’s cross to be a choice, a choice of lifestyle, a choice of
commitment, a choice to love. Jesus asked his followers to pick up our own cross
as a love-gift to God and others. It is a foreign concept to many in our world. Yet,
it is incalculably needed.
The world in which we live is not as embracing and opportunity-laden as we
may want to believe.
Fascism is once again growing in Italy as a response to unwanted
immigration.
In our own country we hear the mantra: ‘Make America Great Again’, while
we watch as families of undocumented immigrants seeking a better life and
contributing to our society and economy are broken apart.
We fight over an 18 th century conception of guns and gun ownership, ‘the
right to bear arms’. Some demand it as our 21 st century American constitutional
privilege, while children and adults are killed needlessly by war-guns unimagined
in the 18 th century.

Even so, Jesus asks us to pick up our cross as a love-gift to God and others.
Jan Rader is the fire chief in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. She
commands a department of nearly 100 firefighters. Huntington is known as being
the “Overdose capital of America”. Cabell County, which includes Huntington,
had close to 2,000 overdoses in 2017. The county’s population is just 96,000. One
in 10 residents of Cabell County suffers from a substance use disorder. The
medical cost of this crisis in the county is nearly $100 million annually.
Jan was raised in the Church. One of the principles of faith she has
embraced is that God is present even in the midst of tragedy. Her Mom was active
with the American Cancer Society. Her Dad built houses with Habitat for
Humanity. Jan says, “My parents did not let the size of a problem stop them from
contributing to the solution.”
Jan wrote of her passion to help save lives. It drove her to get a nursing
degree and work her days off in a hospital emergency room.
She does not view the work of firefighters as a hopeless action against an
unbeatable epidemic. Jan says, “Every life we save is another opportunity for an
addict to bottom out and turn around. You never know when God is going to
change someone’s life.”
One person’s life that was changed is Mickey Watson. He was a heroin
addict found in a bathtub, as good as dead. Today Mickey is off drugs, married
and working as a cook at a local restaurant beloved for its barbecued ribs. He’s a
loving father to the four kids he had during his years of addiction. He helps others
suffering from substance use disorders. None of that would have happened if Jan
and her firefighters had given up on him.
“That’s why I have hope,” Jan declares. “Addiction is not a sign of
irredeemable moral failure. It’s a disease, a physical, mental and spiritual
condition. And like every other disease, it can be treated.
One morning, Jan was at a community prayer breakfast when her phone
buzzed with a Facebook message. It was from someone in long-term recovery.
“I know this is random, but God put it in my heart to let you know the difference
you’ve made in my life,” he wrote.

The man recalled the many times Jan and her crew had revived him from an
overdose. He described his treatment for addiction, his marriage, his job and his
newfound joy raising his kids. “None of this would have happened if not for you
all doing what you do so selflessly,” he concluded.
(https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/health- and-wellness/addiction- and-recovery/faith-
fuels-this- fire-chiefs- fight-against)
Jesus asks us to pick up our cross as a love-gift to God and others. We can
make a difference in this world, one cross, one life at a time.
Amen.