When was the last time that you thought you saw a famous person? Was it a movie star who probably won an Oscar a few years ago. How about a semi famous athlete? The person looks familiar, but you are not sure who the person is. What the problem really boils down to is the question of identity.
In the Gospel for the twenty fourth Sunday on Ordinary Time [Mark 8:27-35], Jesus is asking his fiends about HIS OWN identity. Who do they think he is? Following the normal line of questions, Jesus begins by asking his disciples who do the people in general think he is?
The disciples say that some think he (Jesus) is John the Baptist. Other folks say that he is the prophet Elijah redivivus. And yet a third group claims that he is one of the prophets. Then Jesus raises the question to the disciples themselves. And this question, I think, is the focal point of the entire dialogue. “But, who do YOU say that I am?” The response would be very telling.
Peter, as the chief spokesman of the group, responded “You are the Messiah [Christ].” “Messiah” transliterates as “the one sent.” The Messianic belief was that the Messiah would come to liberate the Jews from Roman power. But when Jesus spoke about the Messiah as being one who would suffer, the disciples’ misunderstanding seemed to be a bit more than just a few raised eyebrows.
Peter, again as spokesperson for the disciples, thought that Jesus had the Messianic promise a little bit skewed, so he took Jesus aside and began to berate him. Jesus, on the other hand, wound up berating Peter instead. “You think not like God, but as humans do.” What did he mean? Basically, that humans program the outcome of a situation according to the way that they want (positive outcome). However, God’s way allows for the two options (positive and negative outcomes) to be in tension and resolved by choice.
That is to say that Peter’s position meant that the expectations of the Messiah were to be that of conquistador, while the position of Jesus was that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise again. What is of issue here is that the disciples somehow did not grasp the true purpose of the Messiah. Jesus spelled out his point of view which amounted to the “death–resurrection” pattern which would continue to be a recurring theme in the rest of his teachings.
There was, however, a lacking awareness of the fundamental difference between “know” and “understand.” To “know” Jesus was principally a mental function. However, to “understand” Jesus meant, to grasp as one could, the fullness of who Jesus was, which included both his life and his message. In other words, Jesus wanted his disciples to “understand” him which meant following his example of doing justice, being compassionate and forgiving.
What does this Gospel ask of us? Above all, that we UNDERSTAND Jesus, which means that we accept and follow his lifestyle of justice, compassion, and forgiveness. This would also include that we see and accept suffering as part of the Christian life, because we believe that after suffering and death there will always be a resurrection.
In addition, the disciple of Jesus must accept SUFFERING and death as part of the Christian experience. Jesus states this quite clearly in the final words of today’s gospel: “Whoever wants to come with me must renounce oneself, take up the cross, and follow me.” In a famous criss-cross pattern, Jesus continues: “Whoever saves his life [selfishly], shall lose it. But whoever loses one’s life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will gain it.” By firmly accepting this truth, we get to UNDERSTAND Jesus because we not only accept who he is, but also what he does.