24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 16th September, 2018

Liturgical Reflection

Gospel according to Mark 8: 27-35

Once again Peter seems to represent each of us, in his faith and in his limitations.  Through his words and resistance we begin to see what Jesus is teaching and how he is forming his disciples (and us).  We are used to Peter’s blunders but about this incident Brendan Byrne says ‘a disciple (Peter) got something so splendidly right'1 In response to Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, he does not give vague answers about prophetic-like features but states plainly, "You are the Messiah".

What follows is not praise or acclaim from Jesus, instead Peter is silenced.  It is a splendid act but still not enough, not good enough to spread around, or share.  Peter recognises Jesus as his kind of messiah, he has the right words, but speaks ‘out of his partial faith and pre-conceived ideas about the messiah.’2  This exchange takes place in the northernmost part of Jesus travels, near Caesarea Philippi a centre of military might, political power and domination.  From here Jesus turns, travelling south towards Jerusalem.  It meant entering into the next phase of his ministry, to show that he is not a triumphant messiah but a suffering one.  As Byrne writes ‘Along the physical journey runs the runs the deeper journey into the mystery of his identity and mission.’3

Previously the disciples, and the crowds had seen Jesus as a Healer, Comforter, with power over the wind and seas.  He fed them, visited them and gave them hope of deliverance from foreign power.  From here on, the gospel records the struggle the disciples have to grasp what it means for a messiah to suffer and die, and in particular for their much loved friend Jesus to ‘fail’ and to be given up.  The concept of Resurrection seems must have been too much to comprehend.  Who could blame them?

Peter cannot bear the thought of Jesus’ suffering and death and rebukes him.  The word ‘rebuke’ is akin to exorcise used to cast out demons.  Jesus in turn, rebukes Peter making this meaning clearer and harsher, calling him Satan.  It was the demoniacs who recognised the Messiah but were told to be quiet.  Their demonic task was to show a flashy messiah and so prevent his true mission.  Anyone, even Peter who stood in his way was a demon to him for he was called to Jerusalem to the clash with the authorities which would inevitably involve suffering.

We cannot blame Peter for resisting – it was natural to want to save his friend and master.  We have witnessed our friends, brothers and sisters go through the Way with Jesus.  With them and with Peter’s story running within us, may we take up our Cross daily and follow Jesus.  No one really wants suffering and yet we know it is an essential part of following Jesus.

Sr June Peck OP


1 B Byrne, A Costly Freedom, A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel, p141
2 V Holyhead, Sowing the Seed, Welcoming the Word in Year B, p160
3 Byrne, op.cit., p139