Gospel Reading: Mark 8: 27-35
27 Jesus and his disciples lift for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”28 And they told him, “John the Baptist,” they said, others “Elijah; other again, one of the prophets.” 29”But you,” he asked, “who do you say I am”? Peter spoke up and said to him, “You are the Christ,” 30 and he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him. 31 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, and after three day to rise again; 32 and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. 33But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” 34 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. 35For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
HISTORICAL SITUATION MARK 8:27-35
We continue to journey with Mark during ordinary time by way of semi -continuous reading of his gospel account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Where did this happen? Jesus was travelling on foot, going towards the villages around Caesarea Philippi. This was a Gentile city beyond the northern border of Palestine, north east of the Sea of Galilee.
When did this happen? This happened after Jesus had left Bethsaida where he had healed the blind man. Up to now Jesus has been making quite an impact on the lives of the ordinary village poor and oppressed, but he also knows that more difficult times lie ahead if he is to bring his message to the powers that be in Jerusalem. That if he continues to do the things he does and say the things he says he is certain to meet, opposition, rejection and hostility.
Who was there? Jesus and his disciples. In this passage Peter is the significant figure among the disciples. The other disciples respond to Jesus’ first question but it is Peter who says in answer to the second “You are the Christ”. He may have been speaking on his own behalf or reflecting the hunch of the inner circle. The dialogue between Peter and Jesus represents a critical moment for Jesus and gives a sense of his frame of mind. He was coming to terms with the likely prospect of his own suffering and death and perhaps was troubled and vulnerable at the thought. But he was determined not to back down and sees Peter’s remonstrating as an obstacle in his path.
What happened? Filled with a certain apprehension about the journey ahead Jesus appears to be seeking affirmation from his close friends about his identity and mission, “who do the people say that I am.” The answers the disciples give reflect the different opinions “on the street” of those who have witnessed the preaching and praxis of Jesus – “John the Baptist” come back to life, Elijah (the one who was to come before the Messiah) or one of the prophets. In other words they recognised him as “a man of God” in keeping with some of the greats in the Jewish tradition. The second question was more searching and challenging and personal “What about you yourselves?” – you who have accompanied me, befriended me, seen me, heard me, touched me, felt me, close up– “Who do you say that I am?” Peter recognised him as the anointed one of God –“You are the Christ” – the one who answers the Jewish waiting and longing for God’s intervention in the world. He sees in Jesus the one who is the fulfilment of God’s promise to come and usher in a new time of peace, freedom and prosperity in the lives of the Jewish people. Jesus concurs with this and elaborates on its implications: as the anointed one, he would have to be ready to lay down his life for what he stood for – so that humankind would come to know the truth of the mercy and love of the father for all of his children. At the same time he was confident that the father’s love would have the last word on his life and would raise him up. In the words of Isaiah’s suffering servant first reading “The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by insults. So too I set my face like flint. I know I shall not be shamed. My vindicator is here at hand.” Peter’s reaction to this bombshell was understandable. Messiah, yes! But a suffering Messiah – No way! Jesus’ rebuke may seem harsh “get behind me Satan” but the last thing he needed was for those closest to him to stand in the way of his perceived destiny. Then calling and addressing the crowd Jesus took the opportunity to drive home the point that those who remain on the path of faithful loving when the difficulties come will inevitably encounter the cross of suffering, and yet lived in love it is the way to a deeper and fuller life. Those who bow out settle for an impoverished life.
Can you remember times when you were curious about what others thought about you? “Who do the people say that I am?”
Can you remember a time when you sought affirmation and encouragement after you had decided to pursue a particular path? Who were the people closest to you that you turned to for confirmation? “What about you, who do you say that I am?”
Remember experiences of when you were aware of public opinion (what others were saying; what the popular view was) but because it was such an important matter you knew you had to consider it honestly and fully for yourself and make up your own mind?
Can you remember a time when like Peter you tried to persuade someone to take a different course of action – that’s not going to happen! you’re not going down that road! there has to be another way! – but like Jesus the person involved would not be moved from their chosen path “Get behind me Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”
Can you remember a time in relationships or in commitments when you discovered that the path of faithful loving would inevitably mean suffering? – “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Remember the times when you remained faithful in love in spite of the hardships and suffering involved but you can now see that it has brought you to a deeper and fuller life- “Anyone who loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will find it.