Today’s gospel passage begins with Jesus asking his disciples a question. Who do people say I am? And who do you say I am? If it was a game show the lights would come on, the bells would ring, everyone would clap and there it would be. Peter got it right. The right answer: “You are the Christ.” But how quickly it was shown that he had actually misunderstood. We need to know something about the messianic expectations, i.e. about what was expected of a Messiah at that time. There were those who thought the Messiah would be a political leader, who would come and take Israel by force and release the Jews from Roman domination. Restore the Kingdom of Israel. Others thought that he might be a religious leader who would purify the worship and ritual life of Israel.
No one was expecting the Messiah would be the crucified one. Of course Mark’s Gospel is written from the post-resurrection perspective. So this passage is written by Mark after the event. What does Mark want to tell us? He wants to let us know that God had something different in mind about how God would visit his people. The notion of the political and the religious Messiah was one of a Messiah that would have to overthrow the enemy. His way would be over and against the enemy. There would have to be blood spilled, people would have to die. There would have to be a winner and a loser. In other words, there would have to be violence and death. Mark wants us to know that this is not the way of God. No.
Instead, Jesus explains to the disciples that the Messiah himself will suffer, die and rise from the dead. In other words, the Messiah, and therefore God, has nothing to do with inflicting death. Nothing. Not only that, having endured death himself the Messiah will be the one to let humanity know that death cannot hold him. And those who follow him are invited into life and invited to define themselves and their relationships not over and against the other but alongside the other. This, however seems to remain a human struggle. It seems, instead, that human nature wants there to be a winner and a loser. Not so for God’s people.
The gospel produces another point of view. Jesus is the Lord of life and not afraid to take life even into the death-ridden areas of human existence: sickness, conflict, dispute. He rose from the dead by an act of God, which distanced God from all those human ways of acting which lead to the death of the other.
So if we want to meet Jesus today we will find him in the face of the fragile and in the vulnerable. He will be there standing beside us in our pain as well as our joy. He will be looking us in the face when we want to run and to hide. He will not let go of us when life turns harsh. That is taking up the cross.
Let us follow today and know that we have a God who wants nothing to do with dealing in death but only to offer us life.
By Fr Brendan