You Are The Christ!

landscapeSelf-identity is a big deal in our society. Knowing who we are enables us to journey forward through life with confidence, a sense of direction and purpose, an accurate assessment of our capabilities as well as weaknesses. In this gospel, Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” was not about his seeking his own self-awareness. It was a question put to the disciples that would reveal to them more deeply who he was and why he came among them. In Peter’s response, “You are the Christ,” we meet a high point in Mark’s gospel account. We are invited to struggle more deeply with who Jesus is. We are invited to prepare ourselves for what faithful discipleship entails.

Yes, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is “the Christ,” but misses the deeper point. From Jewish tradition Peter has a preconceived notion of who Jesus is and also of who “the Christ” would be—as the “anointed one,” the Messiah, he would be a great king (kings of Israel were anointed), overthrow Roman domination, and restore the powerful Israel of old. But this is not “the Christ” who Jesus came to be. Jesus’ self-awareness is revealed ever so fully: he is “the Christ” who will “suffer greatly,” “be rejected,” and “be killed.” Jesus also makes something else explicit—disciples must also “take up [their] cross” if they are to follow Jesus. The disciples are hardly prepared for understanding Jesus’ identity as “the Christ”; they are even less prepared to grasp the demands of following him.

Jesus is called “the Christ”—Peter is called Satan. Salvation confronts human resistance. Peter had a certain image, belief, expectation of what “the Christ” was to be, to do. Suffering, rejection, and being killed had nothing to do with Peter’s Christ. But they have everything to do with the Christ of God. Without a right understanding of “the Christ,” we cannot, with him, rise to new Life. Alone, the demands of discipleship would be impossible, the struggle beyond us. But with God as our help, we can begin to think as God does, not as humans. And how does God think? Not in terms of beatings, buffets, pain, ridicule, or even death. God thinks in terms of life and love. God thinks in terms of salvation. God only wills for us what is good for us and what brings us to new Life. We take up our own cross daily because this is the way to a share in risen Life.

This gospel makes explicit the parameters of discipleship: self-denial, bearing hardship. It makes equally explicit why in the world anyone would follow Jesus: because this is the way to have Life. Herein is a clear gospel presentation of the paschal mystery: it means death and new Life, it means making a choice, it means that we, too, must embrace this way of living if we are to receive the gift of salvation Jesus offers.

It is no small coincidence that this gospel begins with the question of Jesus’ identity and then ends with the cost of discipleship. Identity and discipleship are inextricably related because who we are, our own self-awareness, shapes how we follow. Our identity through baptism is that of Body of Christ; by being united with him in identity, we are also united with him in his life, death, and resurrection. Unlike him, we will not die on a cross. Like him, we are called to be followers who give themselves for the good of others.