24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – 12th September 2021 — Gospel: Mark 8,27-35
Right Answer and Illogical Hopes
The reason why Jesus asks the disciples the two questions about His identity is not because He was facing any sort of identity crisis, but because He wanted to ascertain whether the people, and his disciples, really understood who He was. First, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” This is relatively an easy question. The disciples report on what they have heard among the crowds. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing has born resemblance to that of the great prophets of Israel. Their responses do not get to the heart of the matter. Second, Jesus asks his disciples a more pointed question: “And you, who do you say that I am?” Peter, being the first to speak often, responds, “You are the Messiah” (Mk 8,29). Peter has given the right answer, yet it is not actually very logical. The title “Messiah” was associated in Jewish tradition with an anointed king, a royal figure from the line of David. A Messiah was expected to come and free Israel from their oppressions, purify the people, and restore Israel’s independence and glory.
Our first pope was not perfect, but his love for Christ and his faith was strong. He was divinely inspired with the knowledge that his teacher was not just a great rabbi or an ancient prophet returning to Israel but was in fact the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. Up to now, nothing in Jesus’ career has given any indication of claims to royalty or political ambitions. So far Jesus didn’t make any claim to be the Messiah, nor any sign of taking on the Romans. However, Peter hopes that when they go to Jerusalem, Jesus will finally take on this messianic role. That is why when Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone about him, they accept. It is because they are still very far from understanding what Jesus is all about.
As soon as Jesus begins to speak of what is to come in his career as Messiah – rejection, suffering, and death – Peter is quick to try to set him straight. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Peter’s response is understandable in the light of Jewish messianic expectations. An expectation of a Saviour, who is strong and powerful, someone who will rescue us from our troubles and defeat our enemies. But Jesus rebukes Peter harshly. For He allows himself to be judged and condemned as a blasphemer by Jewish religious leaders. He allows himself to be mocked, tortured, and executed as a criminal by the Romans. And that’s not all. Actually, Jesus expects his disciples to follow him on this path of suffering and death. Jesus foresaw it as an inevitable outcome of his mission. Thus, Jesus speaks of losing our lives for his sake, and for the sake of the gospel. Taking up the cross means being willing to suffer the consequences of following Jesus faithfully, whatever the consequences might be. It means putting Jesus’ priorities and purposes ahead of our own comfort or security. Jesus’ words confused the disciples. They must have felt, at this moment, exactly the way St.Theresa of Avila did when she famously said, “If this is how God treats his friends, it is no wonder he has so few of them!” However, if we don’t “take up our cross,” our crosses don’t disappear. No one can avoid the cross. We must choose to embrace our cross and allow God to work in our lives. It’s an instrument to achieve Gods’ glory.