TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
Psalm 116:1-6, 8-9
Our gospel passage from Mark is structurally the dead center of Mark’s Gospel, and it exhibits a turning point for the Apostles and the contemporary reader. In the question-and-answer first part of the gospel there is the stunning confession of Peter to Jesus’ personal inquiry, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, and the reader of the gospel, are meant to be at a point in Jesus’ earthly journey where they can recognize the divinity of Jesus. Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ,” indicates that he has come to see Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of all that the prophets had foretold. But Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, warning “them not to tell anyone about him,” appears to indicate that Jesus is aware that the disciples’ understanding of what it means to be a Messiah isn’t ready for a broader distribution.
In the striking second half of today’s gospel, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.” This is the first of three Passion predictions in the gospel of Mark. All of the predictions are meant to be a corrective on the disciples’ understanding of what Jesus’ brand of Messiahship is all about. Years of oppression by the Romans had made the good Jew of Jesus’ day forget about the possibility of a “Suffering Servant” as described in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. People wanted a warrior, someone capable of turning things around and putting the Jewish people back on top. Jesus’ teaching was difficult for the disciples, so difficult that the impetuous Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke the person he had just acknowledged as the Christ. Peter, and no doubt the other disciples, could not conceive of a weak Messiah who would suffer and die. Yet, that is precisely the kind of Messiah that Jesus was destined to be.
Peter’s turnaround was great, and Jesus refers to him as “Satan,” because he was “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Peter would come to understand, although not fully until after the Resurrection, that whoever wishes to follow Jesus must deny themselves and embrace their cross: “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake and that of the gospel will save it.” Indeed, Peter would come to know the connection between suffering and discipleship only too well, for he would one day be called to surrender his life on a cross on account of his faith.
The personal question which began our gospel passage from Mark should be answered by anyone bearing the name Christian. Who do we think Jesus is? Is Jesus a good-deed-doer who keeps illness and sickness at bay? Is Jesus a Messiah who makes all things good and sadness disappear? Is Jesus a Messiah whose primary role is to judge and punish the wicked? Our answers make a difference. Like Peter, our answers might point us in the right direction, but they still might leave us falling short of a proper understanding of Jesus the Christ.
We will spend a lifetime trying to grasp the reality of who Jesus is. He is revealed to us in what we call the Old and New Testaments, the living Word of God that is shared with us when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus is revealed to us in our personal prayer and quiet moments, when He speaks directly to our hearts. Jesus is revealed to us in the sometimes simple, sometimes profound, moments of our lives when His presence guides us and enables us to do what is right and good. It is our faith in Jesus that should be manifested by the good “works” spoken of by James in our second reading, for “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Let us, like Peter, be led to a deeper understanding of who Jesus, the Christ, truly is. May that understanding give us the courage to genuinely deny ourselves and embrace the crosses that will be an integral part of following the Lord Jesus. May we never forget what Jesus teaches his disciples in today’s gospel, that “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”