An oxymoron consists of two contradictory words placed together to create a new and sometimes profound expression. Examples include deafening silence, open secret, virtual reality, seriously funny. You get the idea.

In this week’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus wants to know who the crowds think that he is. The quick poll of the disciples suggests that most people think Jesus is some sort of prophet, based on his teaching and healing ministry. Jesus then asks the question of the disciples who have spent much more time observing Jesus both in public and in private spaces. Peter, the spokesman for the disciples, suggests that Jesus is the Messiah (or Christos in Greek, both of which are shorthand for King).

Now the title Messiah carried certain expectations, which pointed to a super version of King David of old. Different Jewish groups had slightly different expectations, but generally the Messiah was hoped to be a victorious, military leader who would crush Israel’s enemies and also sort out the Temple in Jerusalem and usher in a period of lasting peace and justice. Jesus turns these expectations on their head, predicting instead that he will be rejected, will suffer and will die before mysteriously rising again. A suffering Messiah? That’s an oxymoron for Peter who rebukes Jesus for even having such thoughts.

While we have had nearly 2000 years to get our heads around the concept of a suffering Messiah, it was a big leap for the first followers of Jesus. What was also problematic was Jesus’ assertion that his followers must be prepared to walk a similar path of suffering. It’s equally problematic for us. We are quite happy to follow in the footsteps of a compassionate and loving Messiah, but a suffering Messiah who calls us to take up our cross and follow, that’s rather more extreme. What might it look like for your community?