The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.
The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let the man confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?(P) The word of the Lord.
I love the Lord because He has heard my voice in supplication, because He has inclined His ear to me the day I called. (R)
The cord of death encompassed me; the snares of the netherworld seized upon me; I fell into distress and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the Lord, "O Lord, save my life!" (R)
Gracious is the Lord and just; yes, our God is merciful. The Lord keeps the little ones; I was brought low, and He saved me. (R)
For He has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living. (R)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There is a story of a group of four blind men and an elephant. There are many versions of the same story. One day, the blind men were walking down a road and came upon an elephant. Not knowing what it was, they each decided to touch it so as to figure this out. The first one felt the trunk and declared "it is a snake". The second grabbed a leg and declared "it is a tree". The third grabbed the tail and said "it is a rope". The fourth touched its side and said "it is a wall". Then, the four men began to argue over who was right and who was wrong as they tried to describe this animal to one another. The problem was that they couldn't agree. They argued over and over again about what this animal looks like.
The moral of the story is that every human being knows only a part of the Truth, although it does not mean that the truth is not there. To find out the whole truth, we must put all our experiences together. We must discover truth in all its totality. Now, let us use this story to understand today's gospel text. Last week, we read that Jesus, who had been going about preaching, teaching and healing people in the region of Galilee, travelled to the gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, and had made known to people that the grace of God will be given to all who believe, even though His mission called for Him to present Himself to Israel as the Son of David.
In today's gospel, we read that Jesus led his disciples, once again, to another gentile area, Caesarea Philippi. It is about 50 km north of the Sea of Galilee, located at the foot of Mount Hermon. The mountain is considered to be one of the sources of the Jordan River. In the past, the place had many names. In Old Testament times, it was known as Baal Hermon, probably because the Canaanites had built a temple for Baal, the god of weather and fertility. During the Hellenistic period, the Greeks built a temple for their god, Pan - the god of shepherds, forests, wildlife, and fertility - and named this place "Panias" in his honour.
Later in New Testament times, Herod the Great built a temple there in honour of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus, and his son Philip, the then the tetrarch of the Panias region, enlarged and embellished the city, and called it Caesarea, to perpetuate the memory of Caesar; and added his own name to distinguish it from another Caesarea located on the Mediterranean shore. Much later, after Jesus' time, the Arabs captured the area and reverted to its old name "Panias". However, it is called "Banias" today because there is no "p" in the Arabic alphabet.
Earlier, when Jesus was performing miracles, people had speculated on his identity, and came up with some possibilities. Some wondered many times of Jesus' wisdom and miraculous powers; yet, saw nothing in Him other than another human being and a Jewish carpenter's son from Nazareth. Some others regarded Jesus as a great leader, like Moses, who had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. The thought that He might be their long-awaited Messiah never crossed their minds. They had their own ideas about the Messiah. They were thinking of the Messiah as David's successor, who would use the traditional power - military or economic dominance, and drive out the Romans, re-establish Israel's glory and usher in a golden age.
Thus, most of them were somewhat confused about His identity. Like the blind men in the story, they were groping around in the dark trying to figure out who Jesus was but in vain. It was right then Jesus that took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, where many people were still worshipping Greek and Roman gods, and asked them what people were saying about who He was. They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
Some people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist because people, like King Herod Antipas, were fearing that Jesus might be John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Others regarded Him as "Elijah" because the Prophet Malachi had prophesied that Elijah would return before the day of the Lord. Yet, some others felt that He was "one of the prophets" because they believed that either a prophet had been raised from the dead or that he had been simply transported from heaven to earth. In asking the question, of what others speak of Him, Jesus was trying to make His disciples truly ponder "for themselves" who He was.
For, by asking this question, He also wanted them to put together in their minds all that they knew about Him and the things that He had done, and then confess what they think of Him or who He was to them. Peter, perhaps on behalf of the Twelve, immediately replied, "You are the Christ", which means "anointed", Mark (29). It was the custom of the Jews to anoint three classes of people: priests, prophets and kings; and Jesus, known as the Christ, the anointed one, filled all three roles.
Even though Peter rightly identified and believed Jesus as the messiah, Jesus ordered him and others not to tell anyone about Him. Because He knew that they had not yet fully understood His messiahship. Hence, He began to teach them, Mark (31a). What does it mean by "began to teach"? Until His visit to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had been establishing sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death and sin. Now, as He was turning His disciples away from Galilee, where He had experienced great success, and taking them towards Jerusalem, where He will die, He began to teach them what to expect.
He said, "the Son of man must suffer greatly, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise again after three days. He spoke this openly, Mark (31). Here, first of all, Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man rather than Christ or Messiah, just as Peter and others understood of Him. Besides, the title, the Son of Man, was likely to stir less opposition than the title, Christ. The Jewish people expected the Christ to be a descendant of King David who would deliver His people, but had no such expectations of the Son of Man.
Secondly, Jesus spoke of Him "suffering greatly" or "many things" but did not specify the type of suffering, except the suffering that will be inflicted on him by the elders, chief priests and scribes, Isaiah (53); Psalms (22); Daniel (9). It is worth noting here that in Jesus' time, the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes were three groups of people comprised the Sanhedrin, the ruling body for the Jewish people. A theologian observes that it was not humanity at its worst that crucified Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but humanity at its absolute best. Jesus was arrested with official warrants, and tried and killed by the Jewish Sanhedrin and Roman law.
Thirdly, Jesus stressed that it was by divine necessity that He had to suffer and die and, nevertheless, He would rise again three days later.
Fourthly, Jesus spoke about His suffering and death to his disciples quite openly, (v.32a). Remember that Jesus conveyed some of his most interesting teachings through parables, which concealed as much as they revealed. Whereas about the reality of the suffering, Jesus spoke openly. But the disciples, particularly Peter, could not really comprehend the necessity of His sufferings. He took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that for he believed that the mission of Jesus as Christ, the Messiah, was to save the people and not to suffer. He did not understand that Jesus came as the Messiah to earth not to restore political power to the Jewish people and set up His kingdom but to save all humankind from sin and death, and restore its relationship with God. Obviously, Peter's thought was influenced by the Jewish understanding of the messiah.
As Peter chided, Jesus responded harshly saying, "Get behind Me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do", Mark (33). Without knowing it, here, Peter was speaking for Satan. He was doing the tempter's work for the moment. He was tempting Jesus to avoid the path of suffering - the pain, humiliation, shame, rejection, and the physical suffering. And Jesus recognized Satan's influence in Peter and used the same words that He had Himself used to Satan, when He was tempted by him in the wilderness. So, Jesus' rebuke was aimed at His arch adversary who was addressing him through Peter. At the same time, Jesus' rebuke was also meant to remind Peter of his vocation to "follow Him" and not to "lead Him".
Remember when Jesus first met Peter, He had invited him to be His disciple and not to be His master, Mark (1:17). Peter had been following Jesus ever since, however imperfectly. But, in rebuking Jesus, he stepped out upfront. His focus shifted to his own desires and plans. And Jesus also knew that this was the case for all the disciples and the crowd following Him. So, He proceeded to give them an example of what it takes to truly be considered one of His followers. He said, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it", Mark (34, 35).
In this teaching there are two distinct characteristics of a Christian follower:
What is the message for us?
And let us, every day of our lives, walk the path, that of the path of life and that of salvation that Jesus has shown us.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!