Here we are again with a Gospel text quite familiar, in which Jesus asks his disciples: who am I to you? “You are messiah”, Peter answers. But does he understand the depth of what he says? For Jesus, what does it mean to be messiah, or the Christ? Let’s discover the good news for us in this apparently challenging text.
Bible readings Isaiah 50: 5–9 Psalm 116: 1–6, 8–9 James 2: 14–18 Mark 8: 27–35
Distractions in my head
After reading the Gospel a lot of ideas surged into my head, sailing somewhat like distractions. I didn’t repress them for they inspired me into exploring different insights from the text. So, let’s look at them: Love is blind, I know him very well, and so, it’s like that?
Love is blind
How many times do we hear: Love is blind! Probably we ourselves may have used it; but is it really blind? Often, this happens when you are infatuated with someone, and that looks to me a confusion of love with mere emotional intoxication. As a matter of fact, you come to love someone when you know them well. Then, how does this Gospel help us to know Christ better, and thereby commit ourselves to him more firmly?
I know her very well
Another distraction that wobbled in my mind is another popular phrase: Oh, it’s that one, I know him well! What a claim! Possibly you just heard story about that person and from there you claim to know him well. But remember the disciples have been walking with Jesus now for quite some time, but can they claim, at this point, to know him well? When he asks them about what people say who he’s, they are somewhat spontaneous and lavish in reporting what they have heard, yet, when he turns the question directly onto them, there you can imagine the silence of someone caught unawares by an unexpected question. Luckily Peter is there to save the situation -he’s never shy of trying. You are the Christ, he says. That genius of you, Peter! However, does he fully understand the implication of his response? Well, if you are one of those claiming to know someone well, your wife or husband; perhaps, it’s time you applied yourself to knowing them more. There’s always something new to discover even about persons very close to us, just like the disciples about Jesus.
That’s the end
Then came another distraction in the form of a scenario of persons walking hand in hand as lovers, then, something happens, apparently shocking. They disengage their hands -each one goes one’s way -end of relationship. Why? Seemingly, they can’t face their crisis so as to advance together. And that happens not only in human relations, but also in our journey of faith.
Enough of distractions! It’s good, however, to see: how do they nourish our appreciation of the message of this Gospel?
The disciples have been with Jesus for quite some time now. We know, in Mark the ministry of Jesus kicks off in high gear of popularity, leaving crowds stunned: who’s this who speaks with authority, not like our teachers? And his wisdom, where did he get it from? He heals the sick, makes the dumb speak, the lame walks, and brings the dead back to life… So, we can imagine the feeling of pride for the disciples to be associated with this young rabbi, a kind of star. But do they really know him beyond the labels that people stick on him?
By his miraculous acts, he leaves no shadow of doubt; he must be the Christ, the awaited Messiah who’s going to liberate his people from the foreign, oppressive rule of pagan Romans. Does such expectation correspond with the mission of Jesus? No wonder the shock of Peter, probably of other disciples too, to hear that the messiah also will have to suffer. Simply unimaginable! That’s why it’s a critical moment; a turning point. So disillusioned, will these men of Galilee continue following Jesus or will they turn away in disappointment?
Well, the disciples decide to continue their journey with the “weak” messiah. And you, how are you dealing with disturbing revelations you may have just discovered about your family, couple, work or among your friends? How ready are you to integrate those revelations and use them as springboard to confirm your resolve for your relationship?
Deepening the Commitment to Christ
As disciples, we can’t build our relationship on some vague knowledge of Christ, but on profound knowledge of him and his mission. That’s why love just can’t be blind. There you appreciate that the question of Jesus is not about testing the disciples’ capacity to get the quiz right, but rather, an invitation to know him better so that they can make an informed decision about their commitment to him. He tells them, following me, a suffering servant, as seen in the First Reading, you must be ready to tread also the way of the cross like me. Surely, that changes even the expectations.
The mission of this messiah is no longer that of driving out the oppressive, pagan rule of Romans from the territory of Israel; but the foreign, pagan rule deep down the human heart. And the victory is gained not by sword but by words and deeds of love and peace.
What a challenging Christ!
I need to face the Peter in me who revolts at the mention of the cross. In fact, today, we seem to be at home with triumphant Christianism -we want the Christ of the first part of the Gospel of Mark marked with miracles and animated preaching that stun masses. We want to be saved by the blood of Christ, and yet, we are scandalised by the cross. I don’t want to suffer, in the name of Jesus! I’m a child of God; I can’t suffer! All we identify ourselves with are: miracles, healing, wealth… Do we forget that Jesus who died on the cross is a son of God? That’s why the knowledge of Jesus, as Christ and suffering servant; allows us to confront the Peter in us -the Peter seemingly allergic to the cross. No glory of resurrection without the cross.
But, is it suffering for the sake of suffering?
The cross is not only for the messiah, his followers have their share too. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Well, we may wonder about the meaning of such cross: is it suffering for the sake of suffering?
Not at all! Denying oneself is not about self-annihilation, neither is it about being masochist who takes pleasure in pain. On the contrary, it’s about facing the pain of taking a distance from my own self in order to walk a road of faith. I come to realise that what gives meaning and fulfilment to life is not an egoistic preoccupation with myself, and my personal interests, but rather, the generous giving of myself for the wellbeing of others. Such self-offering can be accomplished genuinely in an act of faith. And what’s faith, if not letting oneself off into the hands of God? I say, not me but you, God, be the driver of my life. There begins my beatitude even in the midst of the cross.
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