Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
All human relationships are based on communication, understanding and acceptance. This is important in building human relationships and friendships. When we like a person we want to learn more about his or her personality, talents and qualities. We like to pick the good qualities and see how they are applicable to our lives. Sometimes our knowledge about the other can just be superficial and we seek to know about the persons, who and what they are. It can be the same with our Christian faith. We have our belief in God and we follow the ten commands and also follow meticulously the doctrine of the Church. But we ask ourselves do we really know who this God is and what this faith is. In the Gospel of today, Jesus asks the question of Peter and his companions, who do you say I am? In other words he asks do you really know what I am to you or have you understood me really. This question follows us in our life journey in our search to come into contact with the identity of Jesus. What is Jesus to me and where can I find him.
The New Testament gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ identity. The answer to Saul’s outrage against Christians is to tell him: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” In the final judgment Jesus says whatever you did to the least of my brethren you did it to me. Jesus identifies himself with the persecuted, suffering and the poor. He identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the persecuted, the ones in prison and those in captivity. He identifies with every human person. He identifies with each one of us. He is the good news to each one of us. Peter did identify Jesus and tells him that he is the son of God and Jesus wants us too to identify him in our lives. He is known through the Gospels and in the sacramental presence of the Eucharist. We find him today in the body of Christ, the body of the poor and those who struggle for justice. We have to answer the question as we reflect on today’s readings, with whom we identify Jesus and what he means to us.
Let us now reflect on the readings we heard and see what message is given to us today. In the First Reading, we can easily perceive that prophet Isaiah had his spiritual mind set on concepts that are divine. He gives the words of prophesy that would ultimately be realized several centuries later in Jesus. In this context Isaiah says: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn back. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” Again the prophet continues by saying, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” Here the prophet expresses his full trust in the Lord. He says, Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” It is the Lord God alone who will be the help and support to Him. If the Lord is with us no one can really make us guilty. Guided by the power of the spirit, the prophet expresses his confidence in the Lord. His is the example of living faith that tells us to set our hearts on Divine things so we too can enjoy a priceless personal relationship with the Lord God.
In the Second Reading, we heard St. James speaking on the subject of faith. We know what divine faith is. Faith is a spiritual response to the revealed word of God that leads us to believe in him and trust in his works. There are people who claim they have “faith” but this is not backed up by “works” or practical behaviour. What good is being deeply religious, if we do not reach out to a person in need? “Go in peace; keep warm, eat your fill.” “Sorry, I can’t help you now; just now I am very busy; I am on my way to church.” “I really feel sorry for your plight; don’t worry, I’ll pray for you.” These can be some expressions that help us to cover our lack of application. Faith which is not backed up by compassion and real help is dead! We have to give ourselves, share what we have, not just give charity from our surplus. Charity is something we do with the generosity of our heart and give to the other from what we have and what really hurts. According to James, we may have faith but faith without support of works cannot really save us. Hence according to James faith by itself without support of works, is dead. True faith is living faith! It is a faith that bears fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as an indwelling Holy Spirit who is dormant. The grace of God is always at work! As such, the Holy Spirit always moves the soul to desire to be sanctified so it can shine in love towards others by charitable acts; so it can share the good news; so it can draw others to their living faith in Christ. These are some of the signs of living faith.
The Gospel of today seeks to give us the true identity of Jesus and invites us to make our personal discovery of the master. For the disciples it was indeed a new revelation. Jesus by now had already spent more than two years in his public ministry. He had a large crowd following him everywhere and had a faithful band of disciples who were constantly with him, helping him and supporting him. They had lived with him, listened to his teachings, seen his miracles and had become part of his life. The question for the master is whether they really understood his mission and the proclamation of the kingdom. He had a mission to fulfill as given by the Father and he had called them to be a part of that mission. On their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus begins asking His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They responded by saying that some believed He was John the Baptist, other Elijah and still others, one of the prophets. People did accept him as a spiritual person and the one who was preaching things divine. They knew that Elijah had not tasted death and they believed that he would return to show the path. John the Baptist was killed by Herod but being a holy person they believed that he would continue his mission. Jeremiah, they believed had hidden the ark of the covenant and the belief was that he would come to show where it actually is placed.
Then Jesus asks the disciples directly: “Who do you say I am?” Peter, speaking in the name of all, says: “You are the Christ.” The word ‘Christ’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘anointed’. The ‘Anointed One’ is a clear way of referring to the Messiah, the long-awaited liberating King of Israel. Jesus accepts this confession of Peter done on behalf of the disciples. Clearly, it is a high point in the relationship of Jesus with disciples, but this is not complete. He wishes to tell them even more about himself and the type of messiahship he is called upon to have. He indeed cautions the disciples that people are not ready to hear that Jesus the Rabbi is the Messiah. It is a revelation only to them. At this juncture, quite unexpectedly, comes the explanation of the messiah to the disciples. Jesus begins to tell them what this Messiah is for them and certainly as it is explained in the scriptures. He will suffer greatly, will be rejected by the leaders of his own people, will be executed as a criminal, and on the third day he will rise to life. This clearly comes as a real shock to the disciples. They could not grasp his message. This is not the kind of Messiah they were taught to expect. As prophet Isaiah says in the first reading that he did not resist, nor turn away, but accepted the pain insult, spittle and hurt.
Peter was offended by these words. Reverting to the blindness of the worldly mind that dwells in the human nature, he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Peter acting in the name of all steps forward to say: “This will never happen to you, Master!” Turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus says to Peter and indirectly to them: “Get behind me, Satan! Your ways of thinking are human, not God’s.” Peter has become a real temptation, a stumbling block in the way of Jesus’ mission and work. This is a major turning point in the Gospel story. We are now being given the answer to the question: “Who is this Jesus?” Now we know: he is the Messiah-King. But he is the kind of messiah that suffers and dies for us. The rest of Mark’s account is replying to this question. It will conclude with the centurion at the foot of the cross declaring: “Surely this man is Son of God.” In fact very similar are the opening words of Mark: “This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus makes his demands of us to understand his mission and to follow him closely. He says I any one wants to be his disciple should deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. It is challenging call that the Lord gives us and in this hard way we ought to discover and find him in our lives. The gospel in fact tells us that Jesus began to teach them how the son of man is going to suffer and he teaches us that we too ought to suffer with him. We ask the grace that we may respond to his call and discover what Jesus is for us in our day to day events of life. To be a Christian disciple is not primarily to “save my soul” or “go to heaven”, but to enter fully into the mainstream of human living and human concerns, to become part of it through loving and sharing and building up with others as Jesus did.