This past Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 8:27-35) had Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” after they had responded to his earlier question, “Who do people say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” But when Jesus began to teach them that he was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected and to be put to death, Peter could not accept it and tried to rebuke him. Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.”
Poor Peter! Had he not just proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ? What was it that he got wrong that prompted this rebuke from Jesus? This was what I have been meditating in my heart the last 3 days, along with the beautiful first reading on Sunday from Isaiah 50 – the song of the Suffering Servant.
In the past, I had been asked by the Lord to answer for myself who I say He is. It’s not enough that others tell me that He is Lord and Saviour – do I believe it for myself? For a long time now I have been able to proclaim, like Peter did, “You are the Christ.” And I believe it with all my heart. But now, my Lord and Master is asking me a deeper question. “Are you accepting me as your God on my terms or yours?”
It is easy to follow the Jesus Christ who heals the sick, who drives demons out of the possessed, who resurrects the dead, who feeds the multitude miraculously… the Jesus Christ who teaches with authority and who has the power to calm the storm by rebuking the wind and seas. This Jesus, though not a conquering military hero is still heroic – he reached out to outcasts with courage and was a compelling and charismatic figure.
But in Mark’s Gospel this past Sunday, Jesus taught something very significant about who he is: the essence of his anointing, of his very identity, lies in his passion, death and resurrection. If you have watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion , you may have an inkling of how difficult it is to watch the suffering that Jesus went through. But the apostle John was there. John had been with Jesus when he performed countless miracles, even resurrecting the dead and calming storms. How might he have felt watching Jesus bloodied, humiliated, collapsing under the weight of the cross? Jesus who was stripped of all human dignity – abused, rejected and mocked? This was the one he (John), like Peter, proclaimed as Lord and Master – as the Christ!
I have many expectations of God. I expect God to always have the solution, to be all-powerful in a ‘super-hero’ way – to conquer all evil and eliminate suffering. I can accept the almighty and all-powerful God. But can I accept the broken, humiliated, rejected and crucified Christ who embodied total vulnerability and weakness? Perhaps it is only when I can embrace the suffering messiah who freely and willingly chose to be completely vulnerable, weak and despised that I can begin to appreciate the mystery and magnitude of God’s love.
It is beyond human understanding why God would choose to endure such evil – such utter wretchedness. But that’s what being a disciple of Christ means – to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to be willing, freely, to be vulnerable and weak and broken for the sake of love! This is impossible for a Christian who is unable to accept Jesus as the suffering Messiah. It is not merely that there can be no resurrection without the cross; no Christian would be able to experience the deep joy of the resurrection without having first entered into the self-emptying love of Christ’s suffering and death.
Believe it or not, there is a profound wisdom and beauty in the total self-emptying of the suffering messiah. That is love at its purest and deepest – love without affectation or cognition. It is when everything else has been pruned away and what is left is only love, pure love.
Are we ready to proclaim and follow Christ on His terms?
Help me, Lord, to give up my expectations of you so that I may learn to love you as you are, no matter how difficult that may be. There is much that I am afraid of, but I believe, with your grace, there is nothing I cannot do. Help me to follow wherever you go. Amen.