Isaiah 50:5-9, James 2:14-18, Mark 8:27-35
A priest once narrated to us his encounter with a woman at her sickbed. During the lifely times of this woman, she is very generous and kind. She attends mass every day and does not avail herself of receiving Jesus daily in the Holy Communion. She is well known in the parish.
Many people took her as a role model. So, one day while she was travelling to see her daughter who just gave birth to her first child, she had an accident along the way that did a great deal of damage to her body. When people heard the news of this tragic experience, there were many reactions.
Many people began to shout “God where are you?” “God, this woman has been so dedicated to you, why do you allow this to happen?” and many more. The priest in question on hearing this decided to visit the woman at her sickbed.
Before this, he was asking himself how he can be able to strengthen the faith of this woman since it is normal nowadays for people to think that once you are suffering, God is far away from you and once you are comfortable God has blessed you.
When he met the woman in a critical condition, with legs crippled. He began to console her, but while consoling her, the woman smiled and told the priest,” Fr. You have done well, I am in a good place, this is my cross to carry, I am happy that God allowed me to go through this to sanctify my soul”.
The priest was marvelled at this response because what he expected is not what he met. In life, we must encounter some difficult moments along the way but those moments may not be bad in themselves.
Therefore, life is not always a bed of roses. In the journey of faith, you have to take your cross. In today’s gospel, Peter rebukes Jesus because the type of Messiah he expects is not the Messiah Jesus is. He seems not to understand what Jesus is saying about His fate.
In essence, we do not always expect things to go smoothly the way we want. Even the rough edges that we encounter in life have a mission they come to accomplish.
As disciples of Jesus, we have to embrace whatever comes our way. We have to cherish the good and the bad times. We have to expect smooth and rough encounters.
There will always be time for joy and suffering, a time of pain and enjoyment. Only God knows the reason for them. That you are undergoing challenges is not a sign that God has abandoned you. Everything has a reason.
So, In a bit by bit analysis, let us talk through the readings of today and make possible applications from them.
Who Do You Say I Am.
1. To understand this question very well, we have to read what happened before it.
In Mark 8:22-26, which is the verse before today’s readings, Jesus came to Bethsaida. When He came to Bethsaida they brought to Him a blind man and begged Jesus to heal the man.
Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him and asked him if he saw anything, He looked up and said that he is seeing people that look like trees moving around. Once more Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes again, then at this time, his eyes opened clearly.
2. Now this action of Jesus was an implication of what then will follow suit. In essence, like Jesus gradually opened the eyes of the man while on the way, Jesus will gradually open the eyes of the apostles on who He is and His mission on earth and what His possible mission could be.
Like the man didn’t see clearly at first, the disciples could not understand Him but like Jesus makes the man see clearly, Jesus gradually opens their eyes to the fate that is awaiting Him. and what His mission to the world is.
3. As they now entered Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples “who do people say I am”. Jesus is not ignorant when He asks the disciples this question. But this was like an instructional tool to teach the disciples.
The question provokes their thought and to know the level of their faith. The response from Peter shows at least that the faith of the disciples is growing. They are different from the crowd, who despite the miracles and teachings of Jesus could not have a glimpse of Who He is.
So, it is from that time, that Jesus begins to explain to them that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer in the hands of the chief priests and elders and must be killed but despite that He would resurrect. This means that our journey of spirituality takes a gradual process until we arrive at a certain level of awareness.
Also, it is good to always ask ourselves such a question “who is Jesus to us? Is He only a problem solver? Is He Someone we go to in times of trouble and run away when things become well? Also, Is He only a miracle worker, we run only to receive miracles? Or Is Jesus our Lord and saviour that we need to be very close to all the time and live according to His Word? Who is Jesus to You? Who is Jesus to us? Does our own Jesus hate the cross?
The Answers to Who Jesus Is.
When Jesus asks the disciples who people think that He is, they tell him, John the Baptist, others said Elijah; and others again, one of the prophets. These answers have two sides. On the positive side, it shows that the people think good of Jesus.
They see Him as a mighty prophet and one whom God is using. Then on the negative side, they reflect an inadequate view of who Jesus is.
So It is highly disappointing that the disciples do not report that anyone sees Jesus as the Messiah.
This is a big slap on the people, who despite all the miracles that Jesus works in their midst, they do not know who He is. Therefore, despite, however, God works for you, you may not truly know who He is until we learn to relate with Him personally.
In essence, to see Jesus only with the eyes of a miracle worker, a problem solver, shows how shallow our knowledge of who Jesus is. It is always the life of someone who rejects the cross. The cross is always salvific.
Several times the demons have publicly said who Jesus is. Even in the Synagogue in Mark 1:24; one of the demons publicly said to the people that He knew who Jesus is “The Holy One of God. The same thing happened in Mark 3:11, and Mark 5:7, yet the people could not say who Jesus is.
In essence, to truly know God, we need to encounter Him, we need to come close to Jesus Christ. So, Just like the way people have different answers is the way we have different views about God. Until we learn how to draw close to Him, our knowledge of God will always be shallow.
To His Disciples.
At this point, Jesus now directs His question to the disciples. He says “then you, who do you say I am”. Here, Jesus’ use of the Greek word hymeis (“you”), which is an emphatic pronoun, shows that this question is very important. In other words, Jesus is asking, “Who do you, my closest friends, these people who have been with me all these while think that I am”.
Peter says “You are the Christ.” In essence, Peter had a different but correct answer of who Jesus is. In these answers, we can see the difference between that of the crowd and the disciples.
Therefore, the disciples here represent those who are always hungry to be close to God. In essence, when we remain close to God, our knowledge of Him gradually grows.
You are the Christ.
After Peter’s response, Jesus then begins to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously. He is to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes. They will put him to death, and after three days He will rise again.
When Peter heard this, He took Jesus aside and began to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
Let us get to the root of this. It is worthy to note here that the word “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos.
In Hebrew, the word is missiah (“Messiah”) Which means the “Anointed One” of God. In the Old Testament, the word “missiah” is used on those who are anointed especially the kings.
This word is used In 1 Samuel 16:13, when Samuel anointed David as King. So, this word conveys the message that one is consecrated to God and imbued with great power to deliver the people from bondage.
So the Israelites as a nation have suffered at the hands of many countries. They were besieged by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and at the time of Jesus the Romans.
So what Israel has been expecting is the Messiah, the anointed who would be like David to deliver them from the hands of these rulers and restore the kingdom of Israel.
A popular Psalm at that time known as the Psalm of Solomon reads
“Raise up for them their King, the son of David, to destroy the unrighteous ruler, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles. He will have gentile nations serving under his yoke. He will be a righteous king, the Lord messiah”
So, what they were expecting is a popular messiah who will free the country from these foreign dominations and rulers and cleanse the land of paganism. So they are seeking the one that will come from the lineage of David who, like David, will bring the people back to the golden era. He is going to restore David’s kingdom to its former prosperity and greatness.
So the idea of the Messiah they are expecting is one of political and national liberation. They expect that in Jesus. So, for Jesus to come and be telling them that He will suffer and be crucified is like a fairytale, they couldn’t understand it. This is the reason Peter took him aside to tell him to stop saying such.
Jesus calls Peter Satan saying that ‘“Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s”.’
1. Peter has a greatest difficulty in conceiving of messiahship other than the one they knew before. So, A suffering Messiah for Peter is unthinkable. The Messiah should be a symbol of strength and not weakness. So, Peter took Jesus aside and,amazingly, rebuked Him.
In the same way, many Christians see it as a curse when they undergo troubles in life. Some people will prophesy that what is happening to them is what their ancestors did. Some would also tell them that they need to go and do some sacrifice before they would experience success and open the door.
Many of us unknowingly have fallen into this trap. Then we would ask here, who is free of challenges? Many of us have been misled because someone lied to them that their problem is spiritual as if the person who is telling this to them is free from challenges. Behind the cross, there is salvation. Always take up your cross, no one is immune from problems and challenges. Take up your cross with Joy.
2. You can never pray away every challenge. Some challenges come to your path to train you or bring a good fortune to you, face them with joy. There is no need for praying and fasting that they should go away. If God has put them on our paths for our good, no amount of fasting and praying can take them out.
3. Remember that Peter was opposing the divine will. He had in mind a popular messiahship. That is the way the world thinks; it was not how God had planned Jesus’ ministry and mission. That is also the way many today see the worship of God.
Therefore, sometimes we oppose divine will in our lives without even knowing. Allow God to dictate, then follow with humility and obedience. The will of God takes precedence and not our will.
If You want to Be a Disciple.
Today, many of us detest challenges, we do not want the cross, we hate suffering and we do not even pray for that. The truth is that nobody wants to pass through challenges, Nobody wants to suffer. What we want is enjoyment.
This is why we thank God when something good happens to us but when it is the other way round, we become sad and depressed. But Jesus tells us today, to take up the cross and follow Him.
So, after dismissing Peter, Jesus called the people and His disciples and said to them that ‘If anyone wants to be his true disciple He must be able to do three things and they are:
1. we must deny ourselves.
2. We must take up the cross
3. We must follow Him.
These three criteria must surround one who wants to be His disciple. To deny oneself here is not that you will hate yourself and won’t take appropriate care of your life. No.
Jesus means that the self should not be the centre of our lives and decisions. Whenever we must decide, the will of God and what makes God happy should come first. For example if what you want to do now will give you pleasure, then you first of all ask if God likes this.
If God loves it, then we proceed. But if he does not, there is no need to proceed. Therefore, God, not self, must be at the centre of life.
2. To take up the cross does not necessarily mean suffering. It means bearing some burdens or making some sacrifices because of the love you have for God. Example you may be tempted to do anything but because of the love and closeness with God, you refrain from that.
3. Then by following Jesus means we have to model our lives according to the way He lives and according to His word.
In essence, this means that when we follow our heart inclinations and not what God wants, then there is always a problem.
Finally, Jesus warns that by denying him, one’s physical life may be saved; but one’s eschatological life-i. e., his eternal life, his salvation will be lost. So, we have to choose.
1. The first reading assures us of hope and trust in God’s vindication. He is always present to help. This is why the first reading says “The Lord comes to my help so that I am untouched by the insults. So, too, I set my face like a flint; I know I shall not be ashamed”.
Therefore, the hand of God does not abandon us when we encounter problems. There are times you may feel that all hope is lost but Jesus tells us to keep the faith and be strong.
2. We have to know that no one is immune from suffering. Suffering is also part of life. Like Jesus, Many of the things that we face in life come with a message. Let us learn how to take up our crosses. Quit thinking negative of yourself and quit thinking negative of others. Our fates are different. What you can face in life is different from what the person may face.
Everyone has His or her fate. What I will encounter and what you will encounter is not the same. Jesus has his fate to face. So, for Peter to come and stop Him, is misleading.
Therefore do not give people the impression that your life is the worst because of what you go through in life. You may need those challenges to be where God wants you to be. You have to take up your cross and continue the journey of life.
3. Suffering and crosses can be part of destiny. It is the destiny of Jesus to undergo suffering but after He will resurrect. In our different vocations in life, there are many things we have to go through in life to become what we want to be. These things are very necessary for our salvation and spiritual growth. So always take up your cross and follow Jesus.
4. Jesus sends a clear message to us when He says that if one is to follow Him, He must take up his cross and follow Him. In essence, Jesus is telling us that there is nothing like crossless Christianity.
In the faith, everything must not be for the glory part of. Worshipping God is not limited only to success, glory, open doors, victory.
It is true we pray about these things but we also have to know that even when they do not come, it is not the end of life. What is coming to us may have a reason it is coming to accomplish. Always take up your cross.
5. When you pray and God does not answer the prayer the way you want, it does not mean He has not answered. The presuming silence of God can also be an answer to the prayer.
God may be telling us to try another way or telling us to be patient. God is not deaf nor wicked that He would not answer our prayers unless we do not have His time.
So, when you are very close to Him, always count His answers and Silence as part of the answer to the prayer. He may send you a cross to know the level of your faith. Cherish whatever comes to your path.
6.No one is free from suffering. These people promising you heaven and earth and asking you to go bath inside the river also have their problems.
Our major issue is when we begin to think that there is something wrong with us and that is why we are suffering. In the second reading, James says that we have to show our faith through our good deeds. Therefore it is in the midst of suffering that we have to show God that we truly love Him.
7. Therefore, take up your cross with joy, tranquillity and with hope. The best life is the life to come. Everything that you struggle to acquire in this world will surely end in this world. Therefore, let us not lose our souls because we want to make it in life,
8. In this encounter, Jesus makes Peter a temporary Satan because what he is telling Jesus is His human calculation and not what God has ordained for Jesus. Therefore, what He is thinking is not what God is thinking.
In the same way, there are times we may think God is punishing us or making us suffer without knowing that He is preparing us for something greater.
There are also times you may think that other people’s life has ended when God is eventually preparing them for the future.
Therefore do not get sad when challenges come your way, there may be a reason for that. Also do not castigate others when they face challenges, it may be for their good. Crosses are not curses. So, Always take up your cross and never lose faith.
May God bless you dearest and give us the grace to remain strong in Him. Amen.