"Moses said to YHWH, "But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant." Ex 4:10
Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:
The BIG Question! What Is Your Turning Point!
Politicians in most countries seem to always be getting into trouble for what they say. The media people are quick to give everything a particular spin depending on the lens through which they hear the politician speak. Jesus could have used a spin-person or speechwriter or marketing manager to help him draw and keep followers. A good spin person would have advised Jesus not to say what he did say to his disciples. Mark in his gospel (8:27-35) records Jesus' speech at Caesarea Philippi; "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and to be put to death ..." If you want to be popular with people you don't tell them that you are going to be rejected by their religious leaders and then put to death. Jesus goes on to say that, "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves and take up their cross and follow me." You will also not attract people by telling them they too must be willing to deny themselves and lose their lives. Jesus was talking about sacrificial caring for people outside of our immediate circle, even our enemies. The chances are that with this type of message Jesus would not make him popular and even misunderstood.
There are some people like St. Peter, seem to think we don't have to face the reality of "bad news." People today prefer a soft popular gospel of just have faith in Jesus and life will be wonderful and you will prosper - but only if you have faith. But when we try to understand the good news Jesus offers we must also face the bad news that exists in our lives and in our world, which he calls our attention to. The disciples has seen a lot of good news in Jesus' cures. At first it looked and sounded like the answer to 'every need' which was just what they wanted. Peter must have said with enthusiasm, "You are the Christ" in answer to Jesus' question to him "Who do YOU say I am?" Peter most likely was thinking that Jesus would be the liberator of Israel. Wouldn't that be good news? St. Peter went from right answer to wrong response. First St. Peter speaks from a God-centred angle and then changes to a human outlook. He is yet to be able to see past his own ego centred and limited vision of the mission of Jesus - which will ultimately be his own.
Jesus rejects that notion of political Messiah. He speaks about suffering, about gaining life by losing life. There's something to ponder over: how can you gain life by losing? I suspect parents who have sacrificed so much for their children would have an answer to that question. Peter can't accept the idea of Jesus, a Messiah, who was going to suffer. He calls him "the Christ." The term 'Messiah' isn't a name but a title. The word Christ meant Messiah (the anointed one) which could in some contexts mean, a king or high priest. But for the ancient Jewish people it always meant 'the victorious one' the liberator. People at the time did not make a prediction of suffering for a Messiah. When St. Peter says "You are the Christ" what his answer leaves out is, You are God's 'compassion' the word which means "to suffer with." What the Scriptures consistently revealed is that God is like the grieving parent feeling compassion for us even becoming one of us and sharing our suffering.
God was moved to extremes for us, the way a parent will do anything even suffer for a child in trouble. In another place it says, "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only begotten son" (John 3:16). Peter professes, "You are the Christ (Messiah)." It's not enough. It doesn't describe the reality that Jesus is; God's compassion in the flesh. God on our side. Emmanuel, God-with-us. God willing to suffer for us.
At times like St. Peter, I want a saviour who is triumphant, all powerful and ruling from a throne. This type of saviour will be able like superman save me from all suffering. However, I have a 'saviour' who through his choices for justice and healing for the poor and disadvantages was crucified by selfish power driven people. The Holy Spirit is leading me to want and accept a saviour who is capable of being with me in my suffering and with the suffering of the world. I need a saviour who is capable of supporting me when I'm trying to do the right thing and it hurts and costs dearly. Choosing to live a good life of generous selfless service will require of me sacrifice. So, Jesus is with me when I chose the cross of selfless service that asks for my life in his name. "For whoever wishes to come after me must deny self, take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life my sake and that of the gospel, will save it."
St. Peter could not get his head around the idea of a leader/liberator who would suffer. He could not without the help of the Holy Spirit understand that there is no crown without the cross. There is no 'good news' without facing the 'bad news' in the world and trying to do something about it. Our Eucharist is our praise and thanksgiving for the Christ who faced the bad news of the world for us. Our Eucharist is his sacred meal of liberation and love which gives us strength to turn bad news into good news. Our place at the altar-table (sacrifice and nourishment) is about celebrating justice and receiving his promised life for us and in us. We "gain life, by losing life" Jesus said. In the face of 'bad news' that should be 'good news'. I suppose understanding this depends on how we answer the question Jesus us all; "Who do YOU say I am?"