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 Peter heard the Lord predict his passion 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, 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 he is OK with homosexual activity. No, he is not!
He is not ok with sexual abuse either etc.
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 willfully rejecting him and repenting from their sins!
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 and Apostolic succession, 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.
I’m saying this with a deep conviction and faith even in the light of the sexual abuse scandal we are all aware of.
As painful and awful as it is, it does not change the truth about the Church’s mission to spread the Gospel and bring people to salvation.
Today in the Gospel 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! They were products of their time. When I think about this sexual scandal I can say the same; how embarrassing, we priests are products of our time.
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 …
There is silence and shame from the church officials as well today.
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 realize 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!
Sometimes people are very concerned about being popular among their peers. Sometimes we compare ourselves to other people or make judgments about others based on popularity.
In today’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus doesn’t want people to compare themselves to one another.
Jesus placed a child in their midst, the symbol of simplicity and powerlessness, and proceeded to teach them yet again about the meaning of his words and actions.
Himself having been born a poor child to a poor family in a poor town, Jesus illustrated the value and dignity of simply being human. Just being a child of God is value enough, not what one has or one’s status.
He used the child to exemplify the importance of doing what is just, not for rewards or renown, but because it is right. Serving others, doing what is right and just, is its own reward; serving a child who has nothing to give in return reinforces this notion strongly.
This is why doing wrong to a child is so awful and unjust!
There is another point I would like to consider with you. It has to do with being child-like. I suspect many people are thrown off by a misinterpretation of what Jesus means when He asks us to be as little children. He is not asking us to be childish.
What Jesus is asking us is to be “teachable,” to stop thinking we know everything there is to know about religion, God, the Church, the Bible and all of the other things of God. Just because we completed our religious education programs when we were young, and just because we have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, doesn’t mean we have nothing more to learn about what God wants of us. Before God we always should be like children loving, trusting, humble and self conscious.
When Jesus teaches his Apostles about himself he is teaching them what they must become; when he corrects their behavior he is teaching them who he is; when we meditate on his teaching and put it into practice, we become like him.