With the text appointed for this week we come to the climax of Part Two of Matthew's Gospel. We arrive at this particular point in the lectionary having omitted 15:29-31 (the crowds glorify the God of Israel for Jesus' healing ministry); 15:32-39 (the feeding of the 4,000); and 16:1-12 (the Pharisees seek a sign and the disciples demonstrate their "little faith"). This entire section begins in 4:17 with the words, "From that time Jesus began to preach...." The first section of this material, 4:17--11:1, describes the words and deeds of Jesus' ministry to Israel.
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Oscar Wilde penned a powerful story about behaviors and definitions and justice called The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian was a handsome young man, a model of physical beauty and moral virtue. People complimented him on his good graces. Parents pointed to him as an example to their youth. One artist even painted an exquisite portrait of him.
"Have you seen it?" whispered the Barbie doll to her next door neighbour.
The next Barbie doll in line was instantly alert. There were five different Barbie dolls, who lived jumbled together in the toy cupboard but who were so jealous of each other that they rarely spoke. "Seen what?" asked the second Barbie doll, blue eyes darting all round the room.
"The Princess," replied the first Barbie with glee. "Caitlin's done her hair and it looks terrible!"
These verses from Mark's gospel are a call to commitment, a call to sacrifice, and a call to give up everything of earthly value in life. To say these are difficult verses is truly an understatement. It is pretty clear that the disciples are not at all ready for what Jesus is saying. They are not ready for Jesus to die and they certainly are not ready to die themselves.