Year C: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Peter’s confession about Jesus
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”*He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. 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 on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
- “Who do you say that I am”, is a question asked of us as well. How does the life you live demonstrate your answer to Jesus’ question to Peter?
- “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” Where and how has following Jesus’ core teachings; love, mercy, compassion, and reconciliation between divided brothers, caused you to deny yourself… or to “take up your cross?” Is this something you recognize daily? Explain
- Where do you do struggle most in denying yourself and staying faithful to Jesus’ example, rather than to your own plans and expectations of God?
- What unexpected events have happened in your life as a result of trying to follow Jesus?
Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ
Luke gives us his unique version of the conversation that followed after Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. For Luke, the incident began in the context of Jesus’ prayer. Like Matthew and Mark, Luke records the mistaken identity possibilities: Jesus might be Elijah, another prophet, or a resuscitated John the Baptist. Those ideas introduce the people’s context for understanding him. There was considerable confusion about Jesus and John and over which was the more prominent. (Remember how Luke’s infancy narrative introduces the two: Jesus outshines John in every detail.) Calling him a prophet put Jesus in a general category. The idea that he might be Elijah evoked specific expectations of the beginning of the messianic era. The public seemed to conclude that God was acting through Jesus in much the way God had dealt with their ancestors. It was a good though incomplete answer.
We then discover that Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ was a better but more dangerous reply. Luke doesn’t mention the argument between Peter and Jesus (the “Get behind me, Satan” of Mark 8:33) but he sums it up saying that Jesus “rebuked” them all, forbidding them to repeat the idea to anyone. While Jesus didn’t deny any of the titles they gave him, he refused to allow them to explain him through their messianic theology. According to the Gospel of Luke, never in his earthly life did Jesus refer to himself as the Christ; it was only on the road to Emmaus that he said “the Christ had to suffer.” At this point, rather than affirm his character as God’s anointed, Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man,” the prototype human who, because he remains true to God, will suffer greatly.
This reading feels like a return to Holy Week. It reminds us that messiahship is not all it was cracked up to be. Jesus did not deny his messianic role, but he let the disciples know that they had a misguided conception of it. They were ready, even eager, to understand Jesus through the lens of their expectations. His answer was that the only way to understand him was to follow him through the daily suffering and rejections that would inevitably result as they became more faithful to his example than to their plans.
This Gospel challenges us to stand with the disciples as Jesus asks his question. If we do so, we’ll discover that, as always, Jesus draws us into the unexpected. What seems like a simple question about him takes an unanticipated turn and becomes a question about us. We may answer like “the people” that Jesus was a prophet, and then honor his memory. We might say he was an important historical figure and thus admire him. But if we dare to say with Peter, “You are the Christ of God,” we become implicated.
If we say he is the Christ, we declare that we will follow or be damned. Not that he will condemn us, but if we refuse to follow, we will lose our life in chasing our own expectations instead of receiving what God offers by clothing us in Christ. Following his path, we become heirs with him, receiving more than we can possibly imagine.
Surrendering Our Lives
Today’s readings reflect the early church’s struggle to understand the crucifixion of Jesus as a victory over sin and death for the redemption of the world. Like us, they turned to the ancient scriptures, the Law, the prophets and the psalms, to see what was foretold about Jesus but entirely missed by those who killed him and even by his own followers, who abandoned him in his hour of need.
We can feel the shock of those who first began to connect the words of the prophetZechariah to what happened to Jesus: “And they shall look on him whom they have pierced.” Or again, when they searched Isaiah’s songs of God’s servant and found these words: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 52). Or Psalm 22: “They have pierced my hands and feet.”
“How could we have done this?” the first Jewish believers must have asked as their hearts and minds were opened to the truth that Jesus had suffered and died for them, and that it was foretold in the scriptures. Zechariah’s image of a people grieving as over a firstborn child, an only son, is heart-rending. There is no greater grief imaginable.
Luke uses the image of a sword piercing the heart of Mary at the realization of what was ahead for her child. Jesus, the most loving person imaginable, became a sign of contradiction, rejected and killed by those he had come to save.
John’s Gospel describes the utter pathos on Golgatha as the women stand helplessly by while the soldier pushes his spear up into the heart of the crucified Jesus to make sure he is dead. They all witness an outpouring of blood and water. The evangelist interprets this as the birth of the church, the sacramental signs of Eucharist and baptism. Jesus completes his mission with his final breath, an outpouring of mercy for a world that rejected and murdered him.
How much of this suffering did Jesus himself see coming? The Gospels present him as familiar with the same prophecies and psalms the church later pondered. Did these servant texts become a kind of script for Jesus as he journeyed with his disciples to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover?
The Gospels all record that Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples that suffering awaited him — and them — in Jerusalem. They saw only glory ahead for him and for themselves, but Jesus knew the cost of his mission to change the course of history from self-centeredness to community, from ambition to servanthood. His disciples would all have to go through a mind-bending and heart-breaking conversion before they would understand God’s plan to win back a sinful world through the death of Jesus. Even more challenging, they would have undergone the same paradox of suffering in order to share his glory.
Only later would they remember his words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
The Word of God comes to us in today’s reading. Are we prepared to go through the same conversion every disciple must experience in order to fulfill his or her baptismal identity and complete the Paschal Mystery of Jesus? How and when this passage will occur for each of us is a mystery, but one thing is clear: If we hope to save our lives, we must die to ourselves and surrender our lives for the sake of the kingdom.