By Father Christopher M. O’Connor
“WHO DO YOU say that I am?” This question must be answered by every single one of us in our lifetimes and perhaps more than once.
Our Lord has led His disciples to a place famous for the worship of false gods. In Caesarea Philippi, the people worshipped the Canaanite god Baal, and later on, the Greek god Pan. Our Lord has set the stage, preparing His disciples for the revelation of who He is. First, He asks them who do others say that He is. The answers are John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other prophets.
Then He tests them and asks who they say that He is. Peter responds, “You are the Christ.” Christ or Messiah are interchangeable here, both meaning “the anointed one.”
Miracle Worker, Rebel or Rabbi
Who do we say Jesus is? Many people refer to Jesus today as a prophet or a virtuous man or teacher like Buddha or Confucius. Others saw him as a miracle worker or a rebel against foreign occupation or as an enlightened rabbi.
For eight chapters of Mark, the halfway point, Jesus has been preparing to reveal Himself and the answer Peter gives is the correct one. If we see Jesus only as a miracle worker or a teacher, then He is just a man.
For the Catholic Christian, we must acknowledge Him as the Christ, meaning that He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, one with the Father. He is God. There is no room for indecisiveness here; either Jesus truly is the Christ and God or He is not.
Conforming to Him
Once we accept Jesus as the Christ, our lives must be conformed to Him. Peter knows Jesus is the Christ, but he still does not fully understand what that means. That is why he tells Jesus it is crazy to talk about dying and rising after three days. And Jesus gives Peter probably the sternest smackdown in all of Scripture: “Get behind me Satan.”
Just a while ago, God spoke through Peter to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and now Satan speaks through him to try to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling His mission, which is not to overthrow the Romans, but to overthrow the power of sin and death by His cross.
Jesus calls the crowd to Him and instead of speaking in parables, He speaks plainly, but it must have been all the more confusing when He said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
The cross, the horrific instrument of death used by the Romans! Who would want to take that up? Jesus shows that it is a choice.
Just as each one of us must answer the question, “Who is he?,” we must also choose to take up the cross. The follower cannot expect to do less than the Master.
Once we have accepted Jesus as the Christ and Lord of our lives, we must live out that faith. It is not enough to say that “I believe.” As St. James writes in the second reading, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Our faith in Jesus the Christ impels us to live out that faith, by proclaiming Him at home and in the world. Our faith inspires us to works of charity, not just in soup kitchens and food pantries, but also in the places we inhabit each and every day. One lives as a Christian in school, at work and at home, as well as the parish. As the responsorial psalm this week exhorts us: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.”
In their recently released book, “A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament,” Drs. John Bergsma and Brant Pitre write that this week’s passage from Isaiah “complements Jesus’ prediction of his Passion and his call to ‘take up your cross and follow me.’ All who would follow Christ will share in his sufferings.”
Suffering Is Part of the Vocation
To embrace Jesus Christ and the cross, does not mean one picks and chooses what is comfortable. The life of a true disciple recognizes that suffering is part of our vocation as a baptized and committed Catholic. We recognize that our suffering is not in vain, but is united with the sufferings of Jesus.
We will suffer and we have suffered for the sake of His name. The consolation comes from knowing that we are loved and lifted up by Jesus, who does not abandon us.
Many of us have been suffering these last few weeks with the abuse scandals and horror that resides within our Church. As painful as it is, we know, we believe and we proclaim that Jesus is the Christ.
Readings for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50: 5-9a
Psalm 116: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
James 2: 14-18
Mark 8: 27-35
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.