Friday, 14 September 2012

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

On the road to the villages around Caesarea Philippi Jesus puts a question to his disciples. He is asking for opinions: Who do people say I am?

Since opinions are never in short supply he gets a number of them - John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.

But you, he asked them, who do you say I am?

The gospel of Mark is commonly held to be the first gospel written. We always name them Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but the scholars would say Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Mark is noted for his terseness, his concision; he doesn't waste words. At times his gospel can seem little more than the minutes of a very important meeting; as if Mark is just summarising and recording what his readers already know.  And yet he says enough for those outside the memory of the Church to grasp what is happening, so they can get a clear picture.
  • Who do you say I am?
  • You are the Christ.
  • Don't tell anyone.
Peter's answer (perhaps unexpectedly) hits the nail on the head. Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the long-awaited One. Two thousand years later we now understand that Jesus is the 'offspring' spoken about in Genesis, the first book of the bible; the offspring of the Woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

But Peter has unwittingly let a very dangerous cat out of the bag. The title 'Christ', which means the Anointed One, the Messiah, was a very much misunderstood term in Jesus' day. That is why Jesus quickly orders his disciples not to use it of him, for even they do not understand its significance.

So he sets about teaching them, leading them into the mysterious depths of his identity: And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death.

We need not be shocked by Peter's visceral reaction to the Master's teaching; nor by Lord's unbending and seemingly harsh rejoinder.

Is the prophecy of the Passion given here by the Lord not exactly the same as his foretelling of the Eucharist in John 6? Certainly it meets with the same uncomprehending opposition.

By rejecting the Cross Peter was unwittingly rejecting the Eucharist. He was judging in a 'fleshly' way and not according to the spirit. By rejecting the 'bloody' sacrifice he was rejecting its 'unbloody' memorial and Jesus could not permit this error in the future chief shepherd of his flock. Jesus therefore rebuked him to his face.

And we note how, once again, the drama does not centre on understanding but faith. Jesus is asking for trust and faith, not for intellectual comprehension of his teachings. This is why, it seems to me, he tells Peter to 'get behind' him; to get back into a proper relationship with his Master. This was Peter's big mistake. That he dared to take Jesus 'aside' - to try to 'correct' his Lord - was a serious impertinence because it violated the integrity of their relationship.

Moreover, let us not forget that the Passion, for all its cruelty and unspeakable suffering, was the clearest expression possible of God's inexpressible love and, as such, it was the road chosen by the Father. Jesus walked this road to its bitter end because his love for the Father and for us wished to express itself to the utmost possible extent.

Furthermore, for Jesus, suffering was also the fullest possible experience of love. As a man he wanted to experience, to feel in his human heart, this immense ocean of love he had for his Father and for  us, and only suffering could satisfy its yearning. This is why he needed not only to suffer, but to suffer grievously. His suffering had to be as 'grievous' as his love.

For this reason it had to be to the death, so that it might prove itself stronger than death.

To be a true follower of Jesus we have to 'get behind' and stay behind our Lord and Saviour. To make certain all understood this he: called the people and his disciples to him and said, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.'

After all, isn't this what Jesus himself did when he renounced his own will and pursued the will of his heavenly Father?