Who do you say Jesus is?

By: By Barbara Roedel

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 13

Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116:1-2,3-4,5-6,8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

THE DISCIPLES have been with Jesus for some time now. They have witnessed Jesus cleanse a leper (Mark 1:40-45), heal a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), teach large crowds (Mark 4:1-9), calm a storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41), feed a crowd of 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44), walk on water (Mark 6:45-51) and heal a deaf man with a speech impediment (Mark 7:31-37). Now Jesus asks his disciples what others say about him and who they personally think Jesus is.

Peter answers correctly in responding that Jesus is the Christ; however, he misunderstands totally what that means. A common understanding in first century Palestine was that the Messiah would be a military leader who would overthrow the Roman regime and restore Israel to its rightful political standing. Peter clearly envisions Jesus as a triumphal royal figure, not a Messiah who would suffer rejection, torture and death.

This passage is a turning point in Mark’s Gospel. The focus has clearly shifted from all of the healings, teachings and ministry, toward the inescapable cross, toward the first of three predictions of Jesus’ suffering and death.

JESUS, ADDRESSING the meaning of true discipleship, issues three commands — deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.
To deny one’s self is not about self negation of who we are and what we have experienced in life but rather about centering ourselves in God’s love. Understanding that our individual wants and desires are not the center of the universe calls us to contemplate what is good for community as a whole. In recognizing the common good, we discover who we are and how we can work for justice to further God’s reign.

To take up one’s cross has been terribly misused when associated with bearing personal burdens or sicknesses. Nor is it about personal piety or asceticism and penitential behaviors.

To take up one’s cross is an active choice to serve without counting the cost. Discipleship is demanding so to pick up the cross is a conscious choice that says you are in for the long haul no matter what you encounter along the way.

TO FOLLOW Jesus is to be his disciple, to follow his example. Discipleship is costly. Jesus does not begin a revolution through violence and war but through suffering and death, through the scandalous crucifixion. He embraces the pain of violence and oppression, of sin and rejection with self-denial, suffering and refusal to respond with violence.

This is a far cry from the miracles and crowds, the teachings and attention the disciples had thus far experienced. Peter was appalled at Jesus’ talk of the cross.

In “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without cross, grace without the incarnate Jesus Christ. . . . Costly grace is the Gospel, which must be sought again and again. It is costly because it calls us to do discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”

The first generation of disciples did not know what the future held for them. But we know that to follow Jesus Christ does indeed lead us to the cross. Who do you say Jesus is? Your answer defines how you follow Jesus. Will you be a cross bearer?

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Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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