Mark 8: 27-35
27 Jesus left the place where he had healed the blind man to go with his disciples to the village of Caesarea Philippi. While he was on his way, he was asking questions to his disciples like these: "Who am I from what people say?" 28 They said to him, "For some you are John the Baptist; for others you are Elijah; for others you are one of the prophets". 29 But Jesus continued to ask them, "And you, who do you say that I am?" Peter answers, "You are the Messiah". 30 Immediately he warned them not to tell anyone.
31 Then Jesus began to explain to them that it is essential for the new Adam to go through much suffering, to be rejected by the elders, high priests and Bible scholars, to be killed and to get back on his feet after three days. 32 He told them all these things openly. But Peter, drawing towards him Jesus, began to reproach him. 33 He, Jesus, having turned around and seeing his disciples, also reproached Peter by saying to him, "Depart from me, Satan, for you do not think in the manner of God, but in the manner of human being. 34 Then, after having summoned the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone wishes to follow to the end his desire to follow me, let him be ready to give himself totally and to assume what is for him a cross, so he can follow me. If anyone wants to keep his life intact, he will eventually lose it. The one who accepts to die to his present life because of me and because of the Gospel, that one will experience liberation."
It is by being transformed that all this becomes compost and part of a new life
Gospel commentary - Homily
I read this Sunday's Gospel story in the context of what my family is going through, especially my mother, as my father is getting close the last moments of his life. Jesus asks his disciples: "And who do you say that I am?" Peter gives a striking answer that seems so much better than the people around him who see him as a prophet: "You are the Christ, the anointed of God or Messiah". My mother would have answered, "You are our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Almighty, who saves all who believe in Him and pray to Him". And yet, both answers are likely to reflect a misunderstanding of who Jesus really is, and therefore, at the same time, a misunderstanding of who God really is and who we are as believers.
For a generation of believers, God is seen as the Master of the world and history, the one who influences and controls events, the one who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, the one to whom all homage and thanksgiving must be made. This perception transpires in the affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, as Peter does: this Messiah was to restore the kingdom of David, a kingdom where finally the laws of God and his faithful would triumph. Of course, today we are all defending ourselves from having such a simplistic vision of God. But it is when we are confronted with the harshness of life, suffering and death that we realize that part of this vision is still within us.
"I do not recognize my husband anymore," said my mother, "it is no longer the man I married". The man she married was strong, enterprising, energetic and caring for everything. Now, she has in front of her a weak, emaciated-looking being who sleeps most of the time, a being whose stomach swells incessantly because the heart is no longer able to evacuate the water, a being whose all energy is concentrated on the the most basic needs and who only opens his mouth to cry for help. Yet did she not spend time with my father on prayer and multiple religious activities? Waked up at 4 o'clock am to recite a litany of prayers and the rosary, they participated in the daily mass and did regularly the stations of the cross, they did penance often, they devoted a part of their life to God and religion. Was not it normal for God to make a miracle, or at least an exception in their case? This is exactly what Peter tells Jesus when he announces what awaits him. And the hoped-for miracle will not come: suffering and death will remain. Does the messiah exist?
And yet, despite appearances, a mysterious force is at work. In the middle of his agony, my father shines with such love and happiness that he removes all the barriers. Now my mother is making an incredible journey, to the point of taming fear and coming to terms with death itself. Suddenly, where we expect tears and cries, she experiences tears of joy and romantic relationships. What happened then? And why should it happen in the middle of suffering and the prospect of death? And why does it take so long?
To these questions, I have no answer. Jesus does not have any, even if he speaks of this path as something essential. For the final answer to this question is the same as the question about the identity of the Messiah and the identity of God himself. We approach this response only in a negative way, dying to our old vision of things and people, allowing ourselves to be continually transformed by life: "If anyone wants to keep his life intact, Jesus says, he will end up to lose it. The one who accepts to die to his present life because of me and because of the Gospel, that one will experience liberation."
What the Gospel of this day tells us is extraordinary, that we will all achieve this knowledge that Jesus wants us to access. If Mark was able to tell us his story, it was because he already had access to some of this mystery. As for us, we are already on the move. It is enough for us to let life transform us day by day to experience liberation. Is this really what we want?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, June 2006