I would like to use a very simple image to speak about our readings today.
A simple hinge. Yet an object, an instrument that is essential to our daily lives. Hinges unite and hold and enable doors and windows to open and close and be secured. Without hinges our lives would be way more primitive.
So what does this have to do with our readings? (Take out the pin and hold up one side)
Today’s gospel reading, Mark 8:27–35 is a crucial text in the divine “rescue mission” that Mark outlines in his gospel. Up until now, Mark is focused on the “rescuer,” describing Jesus’ messianic or saving characteristics.
(Hold up other side of hinge)
From this point on, Mark focuses instead on the characteristics of the “rescued,” those who wish to follow after Christ, those who wish to be his disciples. Anyone who wishes to do so, Mark explains, must follow the example of Isaiah’s suffering servant from our first reading. This is the example that Jesus himself embodies on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.
Jesus asks the key question of discipleship, “But who do you say I am?” No more relying on others opinions. No more checking the opinion polls. No more following someone else’s ideas and conclusions.
Jesus makes it personal, very personal. And Peter gets it, sort of. Peter realizes that Jesus is more than just another rabbi, preacher or healer. He realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, meaning “the anointed one.”
For Peter and most likely for the other disciples, they understood this as someone divinely appointed for the purpose of accomplishing God’s will. Peter was hoping that this divine will was much like that of King David, the high point of Israel’s history.
What Peter doesn’t understand is that Jesus is God himself not merely God’s representative. Peter’s confession falls short of confessing Jesus’ truest identity, very much like so many people today who simply see Jesus as just another option, just another opinion, just another “good guy.”
When Jesus reveals his truest identity that he must suffer greatly, be rejected, killed and rise after three days, the pin that will hold everything together, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him.
The term “rebuke” is a very strong term and was used previously by Mark in situations of demonic possession when Jesus rebukes the evil spirits that keeps people bound and unfree. Rebuke expresses sharp disapproval or criticism of someone’s behaviors or actions. Hence, Peter sharply disapproves and criticizes Jesus’ saving ministry.
No wonder Jesus’ response to Peter sounds so harsh. “At this, Jesus 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.’”
In other words, Jesus is casting out the demon of Peter’s pride, ego and control. This command is not a banishment, but rather an instruction in discipleship. Peter can only be a disciple when he follows the Lord and not when he tries to lead the Lord.
To be a disciple of Jesus, we too must let him lead us. To lead others as a mother or father, catechist or small group leader, evangelist or pastor we must first follow Jesus and seek to do his will, not our own. If our ego defines our discipleship, then we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan.
Following Jesus means that we be willing to go wherever the Lord leads. This willingness requires following the Lord even when it means suffering and persecution as a result of witnessing to and living out our Catholic faith.
Our second reading from the letter of James, says much the same in a different way. “Faith, without works is dead.”
If our discipleship does not move us to service, to laying down our lives, to not placing ourselves first, then it is a sham. We merely look good on the outside but are empty within. Unfortunately, this defines far too many of our motives and relationships.
So what might this practically mean for you and me? Here are a few thoughts.
We must read the Bible, especially the Gospels. This is not an option. If we want to follow Jesus, we must be in relationship with him and listen to what he says and does.
Therefore, we must pray daily. This means we must take time, dedicated time to do what our first reading speaks of: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear.” First and foremost when we read Scripture and take time to pray, we must seek to listen to what the Lord is speaking. We also must be able to be docile enough and willing enough to listen to the wisdom and tradition of our Catholic faith.
Then, we too must be willing to take up our cross each day and follow Jesus. As we listen to him and through his word listen to those around us, we, like Jesus must respond with a servant’s heart of selflessness rather than selfishness. We must be willing to suffer and die in our own ego, our wanting to be first and right, our wanting the attention and placing ourselves first in all things.
This means we must be open to listen deeply to the needs of those around us. It may mean that when you come home from work and you’re exhausted, you take the time to listen to your spouse, to play with your kids, to help set the table or take out the garbage or pick up the dog poop in the backyard.
This also means that we share our faith in acts of kindness and charity at home, at work, at school and on the street.
This may mean that we share our faith on the street corner in our St. Paul Street Evangelization ministry.
This may mean that in the face of ridicule, condemnation and the rejection of the Catholic Church because of the clergy sexual abuse scandals and cover up, we respond with understanding and a willingness to enter into dialogue.
This means that we embrace these words of Isaiah the prophet, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”
A disciple follows. Are we willing to follow Jesus step by step, day in and day out and to walk with one another so that one day we may rise with him to eternal life?
Let us pray that we may take up our cross daily and follow Jesus as his disciples.