This is an interesting reading, and even a bit odd, giving us another insight into Jesus’ teaching methods. First with those who are closest to him – who have been traipsing around the country for almost three years. This is the group who believe in him so he is quick to correct their human thinking that gets in the way of their perception of just who he is.
I can see him (can you?) walking casually along with the twelve … the mix of who is nearest him changing every few minutes – as the group shifts, they compare notes about what he said to their group with what the others heard. He stops and turns to the group and queries: Who do people say that I am? Was He really in the dark? After all he is God, doesn’t he know everything? Was he simply opening an opportunity for the disciples to express their loyalty to him?
At first, the disciples do not offer their personal feeling. They repeat what they’ve been hearing: some say John, the Baptist (why they’d mix up the cousins, I don’t know), others say Elijah, or one of the prophets. When Jesus continues: “But, you, who do you say that I am?” A pregnant pause … waiting for a brave one to speak up. Heads turn to Peter who seems to be never afraid to offer an opinion. He doesn’t fail them: “You are the Christ, son of the living God.”
Jesus seems quick to caution the disciples: “Don’t tell anyone.” (Doesn’t he know by now that this is a sure-fire way to get the rumors flying?) Does Jesus want us to hold miracles we experience or witness close to our hearts? To be like Mary after the shepherds’ visit – pondering all these happenings in her heart?” Or are we to be like the disciples, quick as Jesus said, don’t tell until after the Son of Man has risen, shouted their Alleluias and spread the Good News?
Our scene in today’s reading, turns from Jesus conversation with the disciples and his followers to what is to come. Peter quakes in his boots conjuring up what Jesus is describing. This is his friend! So, he takes Jesus aside and in shock rebukes him, criticizes the one he has just acknowledged is the Son of God. “No! No you’ve got it wrong …. That can’t happen to you.”
Have you ever done that … told Jesus he’s got it wrong? The hurricane can’t hit here. My friend, my parent, my child can’t die now. Please tell me that (whatever it is) didn’t happen.
Jesus cautions Peter, and us: “Wait a minute. You are not thinking like God… you’re thinking like a human being.”
With that, Jesus summons the crowd. Did you ever notice the settings that Scripture describes when Jesus speaks to the crowds on the plain, on a hillside or from a boat … and there were thousands of them? No mic, no PA system, no big screen TV … How did he do it? I wonder, did the people really hear his voice or did they hear him in their heart … or was it like the game of Gossip … his words spread rapidly from person to person??? (Just an aside.)
(Back on track) Jesus next lets us know what it will take to continue to be a disciple of His. Three qualities: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. Easy as one, two three? Not quite.
First: deny your worldly ways, drop your egotistical thinking and self-seeking and cease all the ifs, ands and buts you that raise in opposition to Jesus’ message.
Second: take up your cross. It is fashioned for, personalized for just for you. No two crosses are exactly the same. You know the story of the person who rejected her God-given cross. She asked God to exchange it for another. So, God showed her his treasury of crosses. You know which one she chose …. The very one God knew all along would best fit her shoulders.
Third: This is the good part … follow Jesus. You don’t have to invent the way – Jesus has already cut the path for you. Knock and the door will be opened. Seek and you will find. Listen and you will hear.
So, when at Mass, just after the homily, be ready to answer God in the words of the Creed: Who do YOU say that I am?