Saturday, September 15, 2012

Who do you say that Jesus is?

The 24nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
                      Mark 8:27-35

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He 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, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it."

“Who do you say that I am?”

When we fall in love with a person, do we not want to know all about them? Do we not want to know if our impressions of that person are true? Doesn’t being love entail knowing everything we can about a person?

The disciples loved Jesus, so surely they wanted to know all about him, to understand him. But that understanding was very difficult because ‘who Jesus was” did not quite fit the normal expectations and understandings. He didn’t act in ways that were understandable or even natural to them. He taught the Apostles things which seemed to go against their typical way of doing things. He told them to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to take the side of the poor. So, saying who Jesus was, was very difficult, and it must have been a long process for Jesus’ followers to try to understand it. We have seen all along in Mark’s Gospel that the Apostles just were not getting it. By this point in the Gospel, however, they had come a much farther way. Peter was able to say that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. And that was true. And Jesus was pleased with Peter. But, being Jews, their perception of a Messiah was very different from the actuality of what Jesus actually was. And so, while they answered the question correctly, when Jesus attempted to explain to them what He meant by a Messiah – someone who must suffer and be rejected, and even to die, it did not fit into their concept of a Messiah.

And so Peter tries to straighten Jesus out. Peter rebukes him. “What are you talking about? Suffering? Rejection? Death? What part can these ever play in a Messiah?” And in his turn Jesus rebukes Peter for his misunderstanding. Jesus replies to Peter in the same way that he replied to the devil when the devil tried to tempt him in the desert: “Get behind me, Satan”. What he means is: Don’t be a tempter. Don’t tempt me to take on the world’s idea of a Messiah, but allow me to follow God’s idea of a Messiah. Jesus really bursts Peter’s bubble. Peter, who had just been praised by Jesus for his answer, now according to Jesus, is thinking not as God thinks, but as humans think. And that apparently is not good!

I really love this story of Mark’s. Most especially in the Gospel of Mark, Peter is portrayed as the one apostle that Jesus raises to leadership, but at the same time Peter screws up so often that I find I can really identify with him. Despite the fact that Jesus gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, Peter messes up when he tries to walk on water, he misunderstands the transfiguration, totally misinterpreting it, he denies Christ three times and later on is even criticized by St. Paul. Yet despite this, Jesus placed his trust in him. If Peter can mess up that badly and Jesus can still put his trust in him, there must be hope for me!

The thing is, Peter never let any of these failures stop him in his quest to follow Jesus. And Peter is eventually successful in spreading the Good news of Jesus. Just like Peter, we all seem to mess things up at times. We make bad decisions, we don’t really understand, but the lesson here from Mark is that Jesus will be patient with us, he won’t give up on us. He may let us know we are wrong, but he wants us to keep going till we find the right path.

What are my Satans? What are the things I don’t understand about being a Christian? What do I do when I don’t get what Jesus is saying to me each week in the Gospels? What Jesus is asking you to do is not give up. He trusts us enough that he knows we will eventually figure it all out. And the reason we don’t give up is because he is there for us. We want to know him and by knowing him we will love him all the more. In the fifties, a very popular Phil Spectre song by the Teddy Bears went: “To know, know, know him – is to love, love, love him, Just to see him smile, makes my life worth while. To know, know know him, is to love, love love him, and I do.”

Then Jesus continues his teaching by bringing in the crowd of followers and says the enigmatic words: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

These lines, it seems to me, are somewhat anachronistic. When Mark was writing his gospel, he knew that Christ had died on the cross, and he knew that fellow Christians were being persecuted and killed because they were Christians. These words were probably put into Christ’s mouth here by Mark to give hope to the Christians at the time he was writing. But it is still certainly in the spirit of Christ’s actual words.

Denying oneself can be seen as not putting off things that are difficult or distasteful in our lives because we know it will lead to something better. We endure pain and tiredness when we exercise because we know it will be good for us. Similarly we must do things we might not ordinarily do or want to to do in order to come into the fulness of Christ. It is not easy to give of what we have to the poor, to take time to visit the sick or the other acts of mercy. To come to mass each Sunday to be a strength to our fellow Christians. The reading of St. James today tries to show us that faith and works go together. If we have true faith and love in Christ we will deny what is difficult for ourselves, and we will achieve something better.

Taking up our cross also is embracing or using the suffering the happens to us. I was reminded of St. Theresa of Liseux who would not even brush away a fly that was on her face and annoying her, but instead offered the annoyance to God. It can be something that simple. Something that gets us out of ourselves. The suffering servant in the first reading puts up with all sorts of suffering, insults, bruises and shame. But he sets his face like flint, knowing that God will make all things right and he will be the better for it. Deep love and deep pain can change us, can deepen the person we are.

In the end, none of us individually can end the sin and suffering that exists in the world today, but Jesus tells us that by taking up our cross, by losing ourselves, we can follow a different path. We can do little things that can reduce the pain and suffering of others, we can let go of our egos and trust in God, and leave things in God’s hands more. This is how we can take up our crosses daily.

Who do you say Christ is? What kind of a relationship do you have with Him that you can even answer this question? What is it that Christ is asking you to do this day, this week? What kind of a cross can you bear? The answers are in today’s readings. And if you mess up the answer the way Peter did, know that God is patient and will wait for you to get it right. ----

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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