May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
One of my favorite comedians is a guy named Jim Gaffigan – he is totally clean, family friendly, and his jokes (mostly about his love for bacon, cake and other kinds of food) are hilarious. He now has a sitcom on TVLand called, “The Jim Gaffigan Show” which centers on his life as a stand-up comic living in New York City with this wife and their five kids. Their Roman Catholic faith is often the source of some funny moments in the show, much of which are based on real life events. I appreciate how he honestly jokes about his faith both in his act – which I've seen live about three times - and on his show. In the episode last week, his wife wants him to pick up a Bible that their priest wants to give her as a gift. Reluctantly, Jim agrees to do it and stops by the church on his way to the comedy club. He was unaware that it was such a huge Bible – it was about the size of some family Bibles that people keep on their coffee tables. He could not fit it into his satchel, so he carried it in his arms. In the bar before his show it is the focus of some ribbing by other comics who know him. After the show, a fan wanted a picture, and when the photo went viral on social media, there was Jim, standing next to this fan with a huge Bible in his hand. Well I don't have time to recount the whole story but let's just say that by the end of the episode everyone – Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, conservatives, liberals and all in between – were turned against him…all because of this picture of him carrying this huge Bible, and his trying to explain it. It was a little over the top, but it got me thinking about the fact that a person does not have to even be famous for signs of their faith to go public because of the media today, and when it happens, everyone puts a spin on what they see.
I felt kind of sorry for Jim by the end of the episode, even though I was laughing at him. I don't know about you, but I tend to feel a little bit sorry for the disciples – and particularly for Peter – when I read this very well-known passage sometimes called, “Peter's Confession.” I mean, Peter jumps right in there when Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?” Seemingly without hesitation he says, “You are the messiah!” In Mark's rendition of the story, Jesus does not commend Peter for his forthright answer like he does in the Matthew 16 rendition. But here in Mark's Gospel, Jesus snaps back with a stern order not to tell anyone about him. Did Peter's answer surprise Jesus? Did he not expect someone to come up with this so quickly? After all, in Mark's Gospel Peter is the first human being to say the word, “Christos” in relation to Jesus. The author said it when he introduced his gospel as, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In addition, various demons recognize him as “Son of God” when he is asked to heal those who are possessed. But no human being refers to him by the terms Christ or Messiah, or as Son of God at this point in the narrative. Maybe it is a little bit too early in his ministry for Jesus to be getting the kind of recognition that he will receive when word starts spreading that the long expected anointed one is among the people of Israel, and the opinions will certainly not always be favorable!
So Jesus warns them not to tell, and then he begins to teach them what it all means – not only that he is healing and teaching, like he has been doing – but that he is destined to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious authority of the time, to be killed and then after three days to rise again. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that Peter objects to such open, dangerous talk! After all, anointed ones – Christ and Messiah – refers to the kings of old who were anointed with oil poured over their heads. David was anointed in this way, and David would never lay down his life in such a humble way to his opponents. David would fight to the death, and the messiah who was to come would be like David, anointed to rule and fight with all power and majesty.
But Peter doesn't know what we know. It is like a character in a movie who would act totally differently if they had just watched some of the other scenes! We are the observers of this movie and we have seen the scenes and as a result, when we put ourselves into Peter's shoes we don't think we would act like him. Certainly we would read all of the signs, understand all of Jesus' signals. If I was there, I would be the only one who would have truly gotten it!
But I am afraid I am sadly mistaken when I say that! You see, I am as weak and misunderstanding as Peter is when it comes to being a disciple. We don't only have the entire account of Jesus' life in Mark's Gospel up to this point and to finish the story with the crucifixion and resurrection, but we also have three other accounts of it all in our Bibles. And not only that, we have the rich writings of Paul and other early witnesses who have penned poems and hymns and letters like Philippians 2:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Finally, Jesus starts to warn the disciples what this all means for them and for anyone who seeks to follow him. It means sacrifice, the cross and surrender. These were all literally parts of Jesus' life. For so many people in parts of the world it is literally a part of their lives today too! Christians are threatened with bodily harm even today if they profess their faith in Jesus; others deal with loss in other ways – loss of wages for refusing to work in order to observe the Sabbath, loss of dignity when shamed in person or on social media, loss of respect for being honest about their confession that Jesus is God's son, our messiah. And then there is the more likely scenario that will happen to us if we carry our cross, or even publicly show signs of our faith – something we might call the Gaffigan Factor: that we will come under scrutiny for everything that we do on account of our claims to be Christians. But I think that is what Jesus is calling us to do – to not be afraid of what those around us say when they witness us carrying our faith publicly, whether it be by literally carrying a huge Bible with us to unlikely places, or carrying out acts of kindness for those that society doesn't think deserve it.
Well, like season 9 of the show Dallas, the Gaffigan Show episode all ended up being one big long dream (or nightmare) but it made me think about those of us who confess – either loudly or quietly – the Jesus is the messiah. Do we know what that means? Are our lives honest with what that means? We have the benefit of the rest of Jesus' story and the writings of Peter, Paul, James, Martin Luther, Richard Rohr and so many others through the centuries who want to encourage us in our discipleship. As you seek to follow Jesus, do not be afraid to carry your faith publicly – even and especially if it is a cross. There will be opinions on whatever you do or don't do, but the one thing will be constant. That the name above all other names, Jesus Christ our Lord, will be worshiped and served and lifted up as God has promised. May it be so, in the name of Christ; Amen.