Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 16th September


went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way
he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John
the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He
asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the
Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he
began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be
rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and
after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him
aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind
not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his
disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny
themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save
their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the
sake of the gospel, will save it.”


St. Mark recorded two incidents in
Jesus’ public life. They both took place in Caesarea Philippi, which is a town
in the north-eastern corner of Palestine close to the border. It was rebuilt by
the Tetrarch Philip who added his name to the original town that had already
called after Caesar so as to distinguish it from another Caesarea on the west
coast of Palestine.

The first incident happened about a year
or more after Jesus’ public ministry. During the period, Jesus performed many
miracles in additional to preaching. There were a large crowd followed him,
apart from his apostles. Jesus knew that the crowd were forming some ideas
about him as to who he was, though such ideas might vary from one end of the
spectrum to another end.

For those people who had heard but not
met John the Baptist, it would be natural that they mistook him as John the
Baptist. However, one person might think Jesus being John the Baptist risen
from the dead was Herod because his conscience bore the guilt of John the
Baptist’s murder.

Some said Jesus was Elijah, the great
prophet of Israel. According to legend, he had been taken up to heaven and
would return again to prepare the way for the Messiah. Still some thought he
was one of the prophets who had taught their ancestors before. Up to this very
moment, no one knew Jesus is, except the demons. But they were ordered by Jesus
to keep silent about his identity.

Then Jesus asked his apostles: “But who
do you say that I am?” Through their leader, Peter, they proclaimed their
belief in him as the promised Messiah. It was interesting at this point because
Jesus ordered them to remind silent about who he was. Such an order was
necessary because the apostles though knew who he was they had no idea what
this title meant. This would soon be shown in the second incident. Jesus would
like them to learn the real meaning of Messiah until they witnessed his
crucifixion and resurrection.

But first, he corrected their idea of
Messiah by saying that he was not to reign on earth as a glorious and
triumphant king, rather he was to suffer many things and finally be put to
death. In fact, he was the suffering servant foretold by prophet Isaiah.
Nevertheless, Jesus concluded that eventually he would triumph because death
would not hold him and he would rise again after three days.

Although Jesus made it plain about his suffering,
death and resurrection, his apostles did not understand much. How could this
man who performed miracles right in front their own eyes be so powerless? How
could dead man rise again? All these questions puzzled them. Peter would not
accept this and told Jesus he should not admit the prediction he had made.

Jesus told Peter to back down because
his idea was opponent to God’s plan, which was laid down in the prophecies of
the second-Isaiah that is the first reading of today’s liturgy of Word. Peter
and his companions took a very human outlook on God’s purpose in sending the
Messiah. Today, we may still hold this very human outlook on God’s purpose of
his salvation.

Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection
set us an example that true Christian life demands that one is ever ready to
sacrifice one’s own convenience and pleasure if the gospel so demands. From the
very beginning, the Christian Church saw the cross, from being a scandal the
cross became the emblem and the proud standard of God’s love for mankind, as
the symbol of Christ’s redemptive action – something every Christian should be
ready to imitate. Amen.