A God who suffers – how can this be?
A God who is servant – that’s too much for me!
The question ‘Who do you say I am?’ was correctly answered by Peter last week. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he stated: You are the Christ.
Jesus immediately orders them, and orders them strictly, not to tell anyone about him because another important question remains unanswered, ‘What is the Christ?’
The word Christ is Greek for the word Messiah. It was in common usage in Jesus’ day but it had been given meanings which Jesus did not want to associate with himself. Many people, for example, were looking forward to a political Messiah, while others thought he might be a military hero.
So Jesus had to define the word rather than let it define him. How could he expect his disciples to follow him if they were not sure of his identity? How could they announce the Messiah if they were not sure of his nature?
Peter had already shown his limited, human understanding when he made it clear he did not want a suffering Messiah. Jesus rebuked him quickly; then he set about instructing them.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly.
When Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, came to the cinemas I was warned to take a box of tissues. ‘Oh, it’s so heart-wrenching, so sad. They just went on scourging him, it was terrible, I cried and cried.’
Well, I didn’t take any tissues, though I did have a handkerchief in my pocket, and I did find it heart-wrenching, but in a surprisingly different part of the movie. What brought a lump to my throat and moisture to my eyes were the little snippets of scenes in which Jesus was instructing his disciples; for some reason I found those enormously moving. Perhaps you did too.
To hear the word of God from the lips of the Word of God must have been a wonderful experience. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us: The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.
When Peter heard the Lord predict his passion he had what we might call a ‘Hebrews moment'. He was not ready for a suffering Messiah. Jesus’ words slipped into that part of Peter he still needed to come to terms with, and the ever-honest Apostle reacted instantaneously. It had never entered his head that suffering might be part of the salvation the Messiah was to bring. Jesus was adamant, however, that no one would form, or shape, or instruct the Messiah; the Messiah would form them.
This is a good place to pause and ask ourselves the very challenging question, ‘Do I know the Christ, or do I follow a Christ of my own making?’ Many times have I heard Catholics, even priests, say that Jesus never judged, and that he never excluded anyone. Others say Jesus will never let a soul go to Hell. Others again, say that Jesus wants women priests and approves of homosexual activity.
To follow a Christ who never allows a soul to go to hell is a vastly different thing from following a Christ who, on the last day, when he returns in glory, will send to hell all those who have died wilfully rejecting him.
Is your Messiah the true Messiah? Is your Jesus the real Christ? I follow the Jesus presented to me by his Church, the Catholic Church – through her Scriptures and her Tradition, through her magisterial teachings and through her sacramental worship. For me, the true Jesus is to be found only in the Catholic Church; in other places he is at best, incompletely known or, at worst, a parody of the real Lord.
Today Jesus continues his teaching and moves from a suffering Messiah to a servant Messiah. He catches his disciples arguing about who is the greatest. How embarrassing! He asks them: What were you arguing about on the road?
Mark reports: They said nothing .. the silence of shame. I would safely say that most of us here have experienced this guilty silence somewhere in our lives.
- A young child - did you hit your sister? Silence …
- A teenager - did you smoke again after you promised you wouldn't? Silence …
- A shop assistant – did you steal? Silence ...
This silence comes when we are stared at by truth. Wrong suddenly acquires its true character and accuses us when Jesus is present. Like the sudden awkwardness when we realise we are dressed too casually for a formal dinner. In the presence of God we become conscious.
They were arguing about who was the greatest. How silly they must have felt, how vulnerable! How gently and lovingly Jesus corrects and instructs!
So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all'. He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, 'Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me'.
When he teaches them about himself he is teaching them what they must become; when he corrects their behaviour he is teaching them who he is; when we meditate on his teaching and put it into practice, we become like him.