Jesus tells His disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross Mark 8:34-38; Matthew 16:21-18; Luke 9:18-21

Gospel Reading Mark 8:34-38; 9:1

The Gospel reading of Mark 8:34-38; 9:1 is heard on the Sunday after the celebration of the Holy Cross in the Orthodox Church and a similar reading is also given in Matthew 16:21-28 and Luke 9:18-21. The events of this reading occur as Jesus and His apostles are traveling from the villages around Caesarea Philipi to Jerusalem, a distance of about 150 miles. Previously, Jesus and His apostles were in Caesarea Philipi and worked miracles there to teach the people about the Kingdom of God. It was there where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Upon receiving the confession of Jesus’ messiahship from His disciples, while they are traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples what His messiahship will ultimately involve through a prediction that He will die (Mark 8:31). This is the first of three predictions in the book of Mark.  The other two predictions given by Jesus are Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:32.    Jesus tells them that He will suffer and be rejected by the spiritual leaders of the Jewish faith. He will then be killed by the authorities, but will rise again in three days. Peter becomes upset at the prediction and takes Jesus aside from the crowd of people that were following them to tell him not to say such things. Jesus in turn, rebukes Peter because Peter is focused on living in the world rather than focusing his attention on God (8:32-33).

It is at this point that the Gospel reading of Mark 8:34-38, 9:1 occurs. Jesus tells His disciples that those who wish to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross. The Holy Fathers of the Church comment on this passage. Tertullian of Carthage (circa 160-225 AD) considered the body as a cross (On Idolatry 12) – he said, “Your cross means your own anxiety and your sufferings in your own body which is shaped in a way already like a cross”. Caesarius of Arles (circa 470-543 AD Sermons 159.5) , writes that those who follow the teachings and precepts of the Lord will find many people who contradict them and stand in their way – not only pagans who are outside the church, but also those who call themselves Christians and are in the Church but in actuality through the perversity of their deeds are really outside of the Church. Cyril of Alexandria (circa 375-444 AD), Letter 55 to Anastasius and the Monks), makes a point to say that the glory of God is hidden suffering “He who as God was beyond suffering, yet suffered in his own flesh as a human being…” for the salvation of man.

Biblical scholars have debated the meaning of Mark 9:1 where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power”.  Most scholars agree that this statement is referring to the event of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain into His divinity which occurs in scripture immediately following the Gospel Reading of Mark 8:34-38, 9:1 and was witnessed by three of His apostles: Peter, James and John.

References:  Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Paul and Mark, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Mark, the Suffering Servant, Conciliar Press; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, II, Eds. Thomas Oden &Christopher Hall, InterVarsity Press. KJV.