15 September 2012

BELIEVING CHRIST BUT REFUSING TO FACE THE CROSS?

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 8:27-35 (Is 50:4c-9a / Ps 116 / Jas 2:14-18)


The gospel attributed to St. Mark is the gospel of discipleship.  It speaks about the gradual awakening of the disciples to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  Indeed such an awakening proved to be overly gradual.  Many times, the disciples would appear foolish if not slow of learning.

The disciples were the first witnesses to the miracles of Jesus, but that privileged experience seemed not to be enough to convince them right away that Jesus is the Messiah Himself.  Too often, those miracles happened right at the tip of their noses but the disciples continued wondering who Jesus was.  They simply couldn’t figure out who Jesus was.

Whoever wrote the gospel of Mark really made the apostles, intentionally or not, appear ridiculous in his version of the Jesus story.  On verse 39 of chapter 15 (the second to the last chapter) of his version, it was even an outsider who finally professed faith in Jesus: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” said the centurion (therefore Roman and, thus, a Gentile) who stood facing Jesus and saw Him breathed His last.  In the chapter that followed, despite the testimony of those who first saw the risen Jesus, the apostles themselves still failed to believe.  They dismissed Mary Magdalene’s resurrection experience as another woman’s tale; thus, as written in chapter 16, verse 11, they did not believe.  On verse 13 of the same chapter, we are told that the apostles did not also believe the witness of the two disciples whom Jesus met and accompanied on their way home.  No wonder, when the risen Jesus finally appeared to the Eleven who were gathered together at table, He “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw Him after he had been raised."

But wait!  Did we not hear the gospel today?  Simon Peter made his faith declaration before Jesus: “You are the Christ.”  But before the group could jump and shout in loud cheer of Simon Peter, Jesus warned them to keep their mouth shut and taught them frankly that He must suffer greatly, be rejected, and be killed, but on the third day would rise.  As Simon Peter was the first to reply correctly so was he the first to react.  While Mark did not report what Simon Peter said exactly, Matthew (16:22) put words in the mouth of the impulsive apostle: “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  But both Mark and Matthew said that Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan” because he was not thinking as God thinks and, therefore, he was a hindrance for Jesus to fulfill His redemptive mission.

So, a disciple – and an apostle at that – recognized Jesus as the Christ after all.  But Jesus was recognized not for who He really was but for what that apostle – Simon Peter – wanted Him to be.

How many times, we are like Simon Peter, are we not?  We look at Jesus the way we want to see Him rather than the way He wants us to recognize Him.  As long as we search for Jesus within our comfort zones, looking for Him is easy and even a leisure.  But do we really look at Jesus or we are simply looking from Jesus the things we want to see at the expense of what we should see in Him?

I wonder if the writer of Mark purposely arranged his gospel in such a way that after Simon Peter professed faith in Jesus he refused to face the crucified Christ while the centurion who acknowledged Jesus as the true Son of God did so after facing the crucified Christ and seeing His suffering and death.  Clearly, witnessing the disposition by which Jesus endured His passion led the centurion to faith.  Disturbing, Simon Peter, just hearing the prospect of the same passion, was led to become a hindrance for Jesus.  The centurion became a believer because of the suffering Christ.  The prince of apostles was called “Satan” because the Christ he believed in would have to suffer.

What makes us believe in Jesus?  What makes us doubt Him?  What makes us stay with Jesus?  What makes us leave Him?

If we truly believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, then we ought to follow Him even unto Calvary.  Was this the reason why Simon Peter did not want Jesus to suffer and die?  For death was not only an unwanted event in Jesus’ life but also a frightening possibility for those who profess faith in Him.  Could it be that Simon Peter did not want Jesus to suffer because he himself shuddered even at the thought that his own life could end on the cross?  Interestingly, that was exactly how Simon Peter died nonetheless and thereby gave his ultimate witness to Christ: he was crucified upside down.

“Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” said Jesus.  Just as one should not believe in a Christ-less cross so should one must never follow a cross-less Christ.  Following Jesus means facing our own passion; but never alone, always with Jesus whom we wish to follow.  Where our Master goes, there we go.  He climbed Calvary; to Calvary we go.  The cross was His throne; we glory in the cross!

The Apostle James challenges our own discipleship by requiring from us works that prove our faith in Christ.  His challenge is significant, for without works our faith is dead.  So, is our faith dead?  Or are we ready to face death on account of our faith in Jesus?  Unless we show our works – big or small – the world refuses to believe in us.

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