By Fr. Aldo, sx
When we read the Gospel of Mark we are impressed by the fact that Jesus never stops, he is always on the move, and after him, tirelessly, the disciples walk. From the beginning they know that they are following an extraordinary person, but his real identity still remains a mystery. They themselves ask: “who is this who can cast out demons?… whom even the seas obey…” So today’s Gospel, taken from the central part of the narrative, gives answer to such questions, and reveals who Jesus really is.
It is interesting to notice that Peter gives the perfect answer. But Jesus asks them not to tell it to anybody. Surely Jesus knows that even though the answer is correct, the image of the Messiah still playing in their minds was greatly distorted. In fact, Jesus took the opportunity to correct their vision and told them plainly what would really happen to him. He wanted them to understand clearly how the Father would implement his plan of salvation.
Jesus was not going to Jerusalem to destroy the enemies, but to offer his own life. This logic of giving one’s life was very hard to be understood by the disciples. It really sounded like a defeat. Actually Peter and the disciples are not afraid of suffering or taking risks, but the difficulty is in embracing a whole way of life that undoubtedly leads to defeat. Oh, how he wished that the Master would change his mind!
But to that attempt Jesus replied: “Get out of my sight, you Satan!” These are hard words, but Jesus purpose is not to get away from Peter. In reality he wants Peter to re-enter on the right way, to follow him and to be with him as he moves towards the total giving of his life. Again, Jesus makes it clear to all the demands for all who want to follow him: “Deny yourself, take up the cross and follow me.”
To deny oneself means to stop thinking only about one’s self. It is the reverse of what usually people do. Indeed, the tendency to be selfish, defend one’s own interest, taking advantage of others, and conveniently forgetting others, seems to be quite deeply rooted in our very hearts. To be free so not to expect any compensation for the good we become or do is the main demand of the Master to those who wish to follow him.
To take up the cross is not about bearing patiently all the suffering and affliction in life. Much less it is to desire pain, thinking that it is going to please God. A Christian life is not supposed to be centered on pain, but on love. The cross is the greatest sign of love and the most perfect giving of the self. To carry it means to be united with Christ when he gives the highest proof of his love.
“Follow me!” is not only about taking Jesus as a model; it is about participation in the choice Jesus made, taking part in his project, consecrating one’s life out of love for others. There is a huge difference between an admirer and a disciple.
I wonder what would be the Lord’s reaction if he listened to the speeches about him nowadays. Would he not impose on the preachers the same silence he strictly did to the Apostles?
24TH SUNDAY – Ordinary Time
By Fr. Aldo, sx