Sister Mary Glenn, OSB, reflects on the readings Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalms 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
This Sunday’s gospel passage is a pivotal one in Mark’s narrative. Until this point Jesus has been establishing his “credentials”, so to speak, as the Chosen One with his healings, teaching with parables and feeding the crowds. And now he needs to draw his closest disciples into a deeper understanding of what following him means.
So, he asks them what are people saying about him? And they tell him what’s in the current rumor mill. Then comes the key question:
“Who do you say that I am?”
This is the question that forces the disciples – and all of us who follow Jesus – to acknowledge a personal relationship with Christ. And we answer with Peter:
“You are the one sent to show us the way to God.”
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus adds the words, “Blessed are you Peter for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” This is a reminder that faith is a gift, not something we figure out with our minds alone.
There is a lot of commentary about why Jesus did not want people to talk about him as Messiah and the probable reason is that they had wrong ideas that would be difficult to change.
So, Jesus tries to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected by the religious leaders and be killed. This sounds unnecessarily pessimistic to the disciples because how could a great guy like Jesus come to a bad end when so many people revered him? They simply refuse to believe it and tell Jesus that everything will be ok.
Mark uses strong language in this scene to emphasize its importance: Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes him and the disciples in return. That Jesus would call his best friends tempters like Satan is a sure sign that something had pushed his buttons.
We know that Jesus endured temptations at the beginning of his ministry, and we may get the impression that he carried on secure in his identity as God’s Beloved Son. Yet it seems that the temptation to tone down his message, or to bask in the adoration of the people stayed with Jesus all through his life.
Another lesson for me in this incident between Jesus and Peter is that even when one “knows” who Jesus is and believes in him, one can still be blind to the complete revelation. We see what we want to see. Often our blindness, like Peter’s, has to do with the necessity of suffering. Why must the Son of Man suffer greatly? We don’t believe it until we experience it. We are tempted to revert to the weakness of the human condition, instead of seeing as God sees. Even our dearest friend can be an instrument of temptation if they tell us we are too pessimistic, and that God will take care of us.
The last part of this gospel story is a summary of Jesus’ teaching about suffering: Deny yourself; take up your cross – whatever it is; don’t try to save your life but lose it instead.
These are tough words, but we know the rest of the story: Yes, Jesus died, but he lives now as the transformed Christ. We too can lose our life for love and discover a new life beginning right now.