Mark’s gospel hits a turning point in this gospel reading. The pace suddenly quickens and the disciples are left to ponder their relationship with Jesus? They hear disturbing words out of Jesus’ own mouth.
The setting is in the north of the country near Caesarea Philippi where Herod the Great had built a temple to honour Caesar. Philip had inherited the complex and improved it. In such a place where a man is worshipped as a god, Jesus asked the question that needed an answer. ‘Who do you say I am?’ The first section of the gospel asks the question, ’who is Jesus’? Ironically the demons know who he is but no one else. Will the question be answered?
Now he asks the question in this place of pagan gods and Peter answers, “You are the Christ’ meaning’ the anointed one of God’. The Jewish people had a different understanding of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. Peter was disappointed or dismayed to hear that Jesus referred to himself as one who would suffer and die and rise again. It is clear that this is not what Peter and the other disciples want to hear.
Peter takes Jesus aside and remonstrates with him. Jesus seeing the disciples watching this disagreement blasts Peter. Nowhere else does Jesus refer to another person as satanic. But it reminds us of the temptations in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus commands the tempter to leave him as the tempter tries to bribe him. The tempter and Peter have temporal power on their minds.
Peter doesn’t understand what is going on nor do the other disciples. Later they will come to understand what Jesus was doing – the Father’s will. If he was going to suffer it must have been immediately obvious that they were being warned about their own destiny, they will suffer if they remain with him.
Peter and the disciples have heard the paradox – if you want to save your life, then you will have to lose it. If you lose your life for ‘my sake and the sake of the gospel’, you will save it.
The question arises then as it does today: is it worth it? Why would anyone do this? Why would you follow a preacher and teacher like Jesus who appears to have no power or organisation behind him? The early Christians were listening to the stories, taking in the implications of following Jesus.
They did come forward and accepted the gospel and the living presence of God in their lives though the dangers of becoming Christian were very real then and becoming so today in some countries. The presence of Jesus in their midst through baptism and the eucharist was a promise of a remarkable life with him lived in the Christian community.
Trouble comes but God knows each of us by name.
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.