Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human

woman holding self-portrait
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrs_logic/4548681436/">Mrs. Logic</a>

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus took his students with him to Caesarea Philippi. As they were traveling, he asked them, “Who are people saying I am?”

They said, “Some say you’re John the dunker. Others say you’re Elijah. Others say you’re another truth-teller.”

He asked them, “What do you have to say about me?”

Peter said, “You are the anointed one.”

And so Jesus told them not to tell anyone about him.

Instead, Jesus began to teach his students that the authentic human must suffer and be rejected by the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucrats, that he must be executed and three days later return to life. He said this was no secret.

Peter took Jesus aside and berated him, but Jesus turned his back to Peter, and as he looked at his other students said to him, “Get behind me, Satan. You don’t speak for God. In fact, you’re thinking is quite banal.”

He called the crowd and his students together and told them: “If you want to be my follower, you’ll have to put your willingness to be executed for treason against your overlords ahead of your own concerns. If you’re concerned with saving your own skin, you’re as good as dead. But whoever dies for me and and for the sake of this mission will really live. What’s it worth to have the whole world if you’re dead? Really, what will you trade your life away for? Whoever is embarrassed by their association with me and what I say because you want to fit in with all the cheating and corruption going on – the authentic human will consider them embarrassments when that one comes with the splendor of God commanding heaven’s legions.”

Notice the sharp contrast in this episode between Jesus’ self-understanding as being the authentic human and Peter’s identification of Jesus as “the anointed one.” The anointed one, the messiah, is someone who was commonly understood to be the hero who would come with super-human powers to rescue the people, who remain passive pawns in a divinely ordained game of geopolitics.

Jesus immediately rejects Peter’s understanding of the mission. Far from being a super-man with extra-human power, Jesus begins to teach them about being authentically human. The term traditionally, literally rendered, “Son of Man,” comes from the book of Daniel. Some recent translations, in the interest of inclusive language, have rendered it “the Human One.” But what’s at stake in the human one is what it means to be authentically human.

Mark’s Jesus insists that to be authentically human is to be willing to suffer, to be rejected, even to die, in order to take the side of the oppressed and abused. There is no glorious rescue from beyond. There is only the human work of restoring to the human family those who have been dehumanized for the profit of the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucratic task-masters. Mark’s Jesus insists that the only way to truly live, to be immortal, is to give oneself completely over to that cause. Paradoxically, fitting in, going along to get along, failing to stand up to the powers of oppression inevitably lead to an inauthentic unsustainable humanity. For Mark’s Jesus, authenticity is life, in-authenticity is death.

For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment. Moreover, the misappropriation of Jesus’ mission as a messianic rescue mission will even lead those who insist on it to become unwitting agents of the very oppressors Jesus has come to stand against. Jesus turns and offers his back to Peter’s betrayal, and at the same time implores his own students, and anyone else who will listen in the crowds, to take the opportunity to join the ranks of an authentic humanity.

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