Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
The identity of a Messiah who will be rejected, suffer, die on the cross and rise on the third day. The reading this Sunday centers on the identity of the Messiah. In the Gospel, Jesus sets the stage by testing his disciples to find out if they really know who he is. Jesus cleverly starts by asking who other people say he is. Some say Jesus is a powerful prophet, others a great teacher, still others he is a great wonder-worker. Jesus will have none of that. He doesn't care about public opinion. He doesn't care what the "experts" say. So he asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ." Yes, that's good, but not good enough. That is not the full identity of Jesus. That is why Jesus immediately predicts his own suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. When Peter hears that, he reacts from his human perspective. How could the Christ, the Messiah suffer? That is why Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. Peter thought that Christ was a conquering Messiah; that the cross is for criminals, for evil-doers, not for Jesus. In that scene along the way, Jesus wants to remind his disciples and us too that our faith in him as a glorified Messiah is not his full identity. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah calls our attention to the fact that persecution and suffering were the destiny of the Servant of God. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard….” In the second reading, James helps us to see clearly what genuine faith is about. He underlines the necessity of corporal works of mercy to the poor as the best expression of true faith. In other words, it is not enough to tell a hungry person “Go in peace…and eat well.” A parish that has no social ministry program is not fully responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lacks the compassion and love of Christ as he hangs on the cross.
In the Gospel reading, Peter, like many of us thought that he knew who Jesus was, only to be shocked by Jesus' prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. Our call by Christ must involve the cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Like Peter, we want to live our faith on our own terms, without the mystery of the cross; without being involved in responding to the suffering in need. Certainly this is not easy, for it means denying ourselves of our own comfort. The readings remind us that the cross is the path to happiness. There is no short-cut. It means being prepared to risk dying for others like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who on March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for the commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to die as Jesus did. What message do we take home? 1) The best way to understand Jesus is to see him in the perspective of the Cross; 2) That is why Jesus reminds us that following him implies taking up the cross: suffering and dying with him so that he may raise us up to eternal life; 3) The way to Jesus, to happiness, and to eternal life is the way of the cross.
©2018 John S. Mbinda