Commentary on Mark 8:34–9:1
Having warned his disciples of the future that lies ahead for him, Jesus now calls the crowds and his disciples together and lets them know in no uncertain terms what following him entails. To be a follower of Jesus is to be ready to go exactly the way that he went. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
“Whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” This is the paradox. Self-preservation and self-centred aggrandisement leads to nothing, only to a kind of death. Surrendering one’s life totally into a commitment to Jesus and to his Way (as expressed in the Gospel) leads to an enrichment which nothing else can supply.
This is a clear challenge that anyone who wants to follow Jesus must be ready both to suffer and give their lives in love for others. Those who make every effort to preserve their lives and hang on to what they have with no regard for transcendent values or the needs of others are destined to lose everything, not least their integrity, dignity and self-respect.
This was very practical teaching for people who were frequently being persecuted for their Christian faith. Those who betrayed that faith to save their lives or their property had lost something more valuable – their integrity, their wholeness, their consistency.
Undoubtedly many could not live with themselves afterwards. There are certain things which are more important than human life or material possessions.
“What gain, then, is it for a man to win the whole world and ruin [the true meaning of] his life? And indeed what can a man offer in exchange for his life?” We have a long list of martyrs (= witnesses) to the faith whose memories we cherish and whose example we respect and admire. We have no list and no desire to remember those who avoided martyrdom and compromised their faith and their values and who may have enjoyed wealth and position as a result. They lived on for a while and then disappeared; the martyrs are still very much alive.
There are overtones here of a Church in persecution. There must have been those who, when their faith was challenged, “were ashamed of Jesus and his words” and denied their faith to save their immediate lives. They will hear the terrible words cited in Matthew’s gospel: “I do not know you.”
The final phrase is ambivalent: “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.” That can refer to the establishment of the Christian communities, as witnesses to the Kingdom being established in the world, which will be the result of the great experience at Pentecost. It can also refer, of course, to a belief among many in the early Church that the Second Coming of Jesus, the Parousia, would take place in their lifetime.