Reflection on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50:4-9; Mark 8:27-35
We can imagine the scene we have just heard described. Jesus and a few others walking along the road, maybe on a day like this, heading off to some villages north of where they are. This scene may have been a common one — an itinerant preacher with some disciples setting off to tell others what they believe, what they have discovered. What is amazing, perhaps, is that we are here in Kentucky, nearly halfway around the globe, almost 2,000 years later, thinking and talking about this particular itinerant preacher.
From what we have read and heard through the years, we imagine that the disciples are hopeful that they are with someone who will be important, someone who will make a difference in their lives, someone who will get the power of Rome off their backs. Who wants to live with oppression? This Jesus may be the way out from under for them.
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks those who are committed to following him. Peter answers, as we all know, “You are the Christ.” Christ, “Christos” — the Greek term for one who is anointed — an expression used for each of the kings of Israel in earlier days. In Aramaic the word is Messiah — an expression that carried much meaning and expectation for the ordinary folk of the day: a leader, a savior, the supreme king sent by God, the liberator who would get them out from under the control of Rome and who would bring the whole world to worship the Lord God. Natural feelings and thoughts: wanting freedom for one’s country, believing that one’s own ways and beliefs are best, being sure that “our God” is the only God, and all people should acknowledge that.
Jesus has other ideas. He has prophetic ways, ways of witnessing to what he has learned from the prophets who have gone before him, ways he has learned in prayer in the presence of the one he calls Father. Jesus chooses another title for himself than the Christ. He refers to himself as “Son of Man” — a title from the book of Daniel that certainly connotes power. Remember the phrase: “The Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.” But “Son of Man” also connotes earthiness, an ordinary person, one of the crowd. Further, Jesus possibly connects himself and his future with that of the suffering servant whom Isaiah wrote of, what we heard in the first reading. That mysterious person was persecuted, treated badly, suffered a lot, but knew God as savior and as strength.
Jesus refuses to be the hero king, but chooses to stand with the poor and the outcasts. He rebukes Peter and the others sharply for thinking that things will be otherwise. Jesus may be struggling himself about which way to go. Maybe he is tempted to be “hero-king.” Jesus probably could have made a deal with the authorities as he saw the net around him getting tighter, but that would have been a betrayal of all those marginated people with whom he stood. The call he heard from God was to stand with the poor, though he must have wondered sometimes. Was he right about this God whom he called Abba?
Toward the end of the Gospel reading, it seems that Jesus and the disciples had arrived at one of the villages. At any rate, Mark has Jesus calling the crowd together along with his disciples to teach them. Maybe Jesus is talking to himself, also. He knows he is out of favor with the authorities of the day. They do not approve of this God he preaches about. He has said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan, tempter.” Now he says to everyone: “If you want to follow me, you have to be prepared for hard times.” And then the promise: ”If you lose your life for my sake and for what I am teaching you, then you will save it.”