Gospel of Mark, Lent

March Madness (Mark 8:27-9:29)

I’m writing this with basketball on in the background. My wife and our 13-year-old have their brackets and are rooting for their teams, sometimes the ones they chose for practical reasons over the teams they prefer any other day of the year. It’s The Boy’s first attempt, and he has a lot of questions about the seeding. Who are those #16 teams anyway? Radford? Even I know victory for Radford would be extremely unlikely.*

Many questions have been asked and answered, some of them more than once. Has a #16 seed ever beaten a #1 seed? No. Has a #15 seed ever beaten a #2? And so forth. 8 and 9 are so close together, surely the games they play will be close, too? Such tension!

I’ve been traveling, having my own March Madness, with more to come next week, and I fell behind on my Lenten practice just as I reached the hinge of Mark’s gospel, that place where chapter 8 meets chapter 9 as we start the journey to chapter 16 and the end.

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30, CEB)

Through the whole gospel, the disciples have been struggling to get who Jesus is – healer, rabbi, miracle worker? Is he first seed? or 16th? Peter calls it. Jesus is #1!


Well, sort of. It’s possible to be the Christ yet not win the Earthly Kingdom Athletic Association Tournament.

No, no! Jesus! You are #1, and we all know what that means! It means winning!!!

Peter gets the worst of this exchange, a flat-out rebuke from Jesus.

You almost get it, man, but you really don’t. You know the right word to say, but you don’t understand why I’m here.

(Radford 46, Villanova 79 – 5:40 to go.)

I’m not sure why taking Peter, along with James and John, up on the mountain seemed like the right next step. Would I be less likely to blurt out who Jesus was after seeing him transfigured and chatting up Moses and Elijah? Would I be less confident in his ability to handle the things he told me he would have to face?

It sounds wrong in Chapters 8 and 9, and on the way down the mountain (tell no one!), he heals a boy no one else could heal, maybe even raises him from the dead.

He really is #1.


There are upsets today, as there always are on the first day of the tournament. Sometimes it’s a moral victory to even be there. (Final score Villanova 87, Radford 61.)

He’s #1 at being Jesus, but that doesn’t mean what Peter wanted it to mean, or what I wish it did.

Help me, Jesus, not to measure your victory by earthly kingdom standards. Amen. 

* They did win a game to play in, though, so good for them.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.