Reflection on the Gospel-24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (Mark 8:27-35) -Veronica M. Lawson RSM
Today’s gospel reading leads us into a section of Mark’s gospel that explores challenges confronting all disciples on their journey of faith. The first challenge is to clarify the nature of our commitment as disciples of Jesus. If we fail to understand who Jesus is, then we have little chance of understanding the nature of our own call to follow him. Two questions (“Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”) are addressed to our forebears in faith communities of the latter part of the first century and to Christians across the millennia. We are invited to hear these questions anew. Do we simply share what “the people” say about Jesus? Are we like Peter who has the right language but only partial insight? Or do we have the wisdom to seek a deeper understanding of the identity of Jesus?
In response to Jesus’ second question (“Who do you say that I am?”), Peter gets the words right: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed messenger. It becomes clear, however, that Peter has a very different notion from Jesus of what it means to be the Messiah or the Christ. This is understandable since there were diverse messianic expectations within first-century Judaism. Many expected a royal militaristic figure who would drive out the Roman occupiers and restore Israel’s status as an independent nation. Jesus, as God’s Messiah, refuses the way of violent action. His way is to be true to his mission of bringing God’s empire, even if it brings the most intense personal suffering. Peter refuses to accept a suffering Messiah. He is severely reprimanded for his refusal and instructed to get out of the way, to get back to where a disciple should be, namely behind Jesus, following him, and not in front obstructing the path to wisdom and life.
Our experience of global conflicts should make us wary of accepting militaristic messiahs. We have learnt from bitter experience that war does little to bring peace and justice. In our times, to know and follow Jesus as the Christos or Messiah is to seek and support more moderate and lasting responses to both perceived and real injustice. It is to listen to the wisdom of those with insight and experience, to calculate with the utmost care the consequences of violent reactions to the problems in our world, in contemporary society, and in our homes. That may well involve hard work, personal misunderstanding, physical and emotional trauma or, in other words, it may mean “losing one’s life” for the sake of the gospel. It may call us to ensure that all have access to a more equitable share of earth resources. It certainly calls for profound trust in the saving power of God. In this Season of Creation, the gospel calls us into the ways of respect, of commitment, and of peaceful negotiation, to ever deeper insight into the ways of Jesus the Christ, the anointed agent of God’s empire.