24th Sunday in O.T. (B)
Jesus and the disciples are on a journey. Jesus asks the disciples who
others think he is. Some of the people say Jesus is John the Baptizer come
back to life. a few others think he is Elijah, whom many believed would return
to the earth before the Messiah would come. And some think Jesus is one
of the prophets. Jesus finally asks them who they think he is. And Peter
declares, You are the Messiah.
In Peter’s mind, that word Messiah meant king, conqueror, liberator, protector, provider, victor, winner -everything that an oppressed people could hope for to restore freedom to a nation that was ruled by foreign force. Rather than telling Jesus who he is, Peter chooses to tell Jesus who he should be. But Jesus won’t take Messiah for an answer. So he began to teach them... who he really is.
The description that Jesus gives of himself is a far cry from the one that Peter had designed. Jesus talks about himself in terms of suffering much, being rejected by the elders and the authorities, being put to death, and rising three days later. This is the way it is going to be -suffering, rejection, death, and rising. This is it “take or leave it”.
As soon as Jesus finishes teaching about suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to remonstrate with him. Despite his disciple’s protest, Jesus does not redesign his course. Jesus simply tells Peter that he may have gotten the right word -Messiah- but he has gotten the wrong meaning. For Jesus, Messiah means rejection, suffering, and dying before rising. The final victory comes only after ignominious defeat. The Messiah goes to death and through death. The rising only comes after the falling, not in place of it.
In reply to Peter, Jesus elicited the severest reprimand in the history of our faith: Get out of my sight, you Satan! He calls Peter a Satan because he wants to separate Jesus from his cross. Peter likes the Jesus who exorcises, heals, tells parables, and demonstrates great power. But Jesus just turns this understanding upside down. Jesus reveals that he, as the Messiah, would have to join himself to a cross: to suffer, be rejected and even die, to fulfill his calling to be the Savior. And he said this openly, records Mark. He obviously did not want to be misunderstood.
Then Jesus proceeds to teach the rest of the crowd that had gathered -and that crowd includes all of us- that this is the very same pattern and program that we will follow if we want to follow him. If anyone wishes to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross, and follow in my steps. Today we are taught the essential aspect of Jesus’ identity. Today we are taught not only that Jesus is the Messiah but more importantly just what kind of a Messiah Jesus really is. Jesus is a suffering kind of Messiah.
The indelible mark of Jesus’ earthly mission is the cross. We followers of Jesus are also to be identified by the cross. He has saved us, forgiven us, loved us by suffering and dying on the cross. That is why we begin and end every Mass with the Sign of the Cross. That is why the cross is the focal point of our church. We are Christians because we freely choose to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to follow the way of the cross.
Today’s gospel message is in head-on conflict with our inclinations, wishes, and rational logic. But we should not forget that here we have to deal with a divine wisdom, with a supernatural enlighten that discloses to our mind hidden values and mysterious dimensions that our intellect cannot even envision.