My most recent article in the Bennington Banner, original link here: https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/speaking-of-religion-a-different-kind-of-king,550408?
I’ve never seen an episode of “Undercover Boss.” I feel like I should get that up front. Never seen it, not even a minute. Never really wanted to, either.
But I’ve lived in the US my entire life, and I’m pretty conversant with the way our culture works, so I imagine I know the formula anyway. Boss/Manager/Captain of Industry/Owner goes out onto the factory floor/store room/kitchen and interacts with the staff. The authority figure is somehow disguised, and is posing as a customer/partner/lower level employee. I imagine the person of importance is hoping to catch someone doing something wrong, hoping to see how the rank-and-file feel about him- or herself, or, maybe, is just curious to see what kind of experience someone else might have with their company.
It’s an old formula, going back as far as literature. I have dim high-school English class memories of the King masquerading as the Black Knight in “Ivanhoe.” I’m pretty sure Odysseus, when he finally gets home, returns to Ithaca in disguise.
It’s an old story, but a good one.
And it’s one I was thinking about as I read some scripture this week, when we find Peter correctly identifying the world’s most important Undercover Boss. Many of the world’s Christians will go to church this week to find that the Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verses 27-38. It’s a famous story: the disciples are strolling around with Jesus, and he asks them, who do you think I am, really?
Only Peter speaks up. “You are the Messiah of God.”
Then Jesus goes on to talk about how he has to suffer and die, and, despite having just named him as the King, Peter rebukes him. Jesus says to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”
Yikes! That was kinda harsh! Why did Jesus say that?
Well, there are probably a bunch of reasons, but let me focus on one of them. Peter calls Jesus the Messiah. Many of us use that word around Christmas time, and maybe sometimes through the rest of the year. It’s come to mean “Savior” to us, but that’s not what it meant to the men and women who were traveling with Jesus. To them, it meant, literally, the anointed one.
To them, it meant king.
Peter boldly proclaimed that Jesus is the one anointed by God to be the King of the Jewish people. He thought it meant Jesus would take back the Throne of David and kick the military might of the Roman Empire out of Israel.
And Jesus never denies it.
Well, he never denies that he is the anointed one of God.
The problem is, he never intended to do those other things.
Peter’s issue in that moment is that he correctly identifies Jesus as the King but he doesn’t get what that means. He has to have the term re-defined for him. And Jesus obliges. He says, you want a king, well, ok, but if you want to follow your king, you have to take up your cross. You will have to suffer. You want a king, well, if you want to follow this king, it’s going to cost you.
It’s going to cost you your life.
Yes, Peter needed to have his understanding of what kind of King Jesus was altered.
You know what? So do we.
Because in our culture, it’s gone the other way. Jesus has become sort of like a Holy Vending Machine that hulks in the corner, unseen and unheeded, until we’re in dire need, and then we drop a quick prayer in the coin slot, pull the lever, and patiently wait until whatever we want comes out of the chute. And when it doesn’t we wail and curse and rock the machine back and forth until we get what we want or we give up on it
How many of us have given up on Jesus?
Well, here’s the good news: Jesus hasn’t given up on us. And Jesus never will.
But we have to alter our expectations. Because Jesus is NOT a vending machine. We don’t get to ask for what we want when we want it and complain when it doesn’t happen. Jesus never promised that.
Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t about what we can get FROM Jesus, it’s more about what we give TO Jesus. Jesus asks for our lives. But what Jesus is really asking is that we commit our lives to God. That we sacrifice together in love. That we work hard for each other’s benefit, whatever it may cost us.
That we “lose our lives” in service to God and to each another in the name of the one who was and IS our King.