- About us
- Online retreat
- Message Board
- Podcasts & videos
- Bring the Good News
- Everyone Loves A Wedding
- Light Brings Joy
- What is Cathlics on Call? A Perspective from a Recent Participant
Who do you say I am?
by vanThanh Nguyen, S.V.D. | September 14, 2012
Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2012)
I recently had a very awkward moment. At a family reunion, I mistakenly identified a cousin of mine for someone else, because we haven't seen each other for a long time. My cousin of course remembered me, but I kept confusing her for someone else. After a long conversation, my cousin finally told me her real name, and I became thoroughly embarrassed.
In today's Gospel, Peter erroneously identified who Jesus was and was rebuked for it. The Gospel reading today is part of the larger traveling narrative of Mark 8:22-10:52, in which the author seeks to further clarify the true identity of Jesus and expound on the implications of what it means to follow him. Peter's famous confession of Jesus takes place in Caesarea Philippi, which is located in the northern part of Israel at the foot of Mount Hermon. The city used to be called Panias (or Banyas today) after the Greek god Pan. People came here to picnic with the nature god Pan, for there was plenty of grass and water in the vicinity. When Phillip inherited this area, he rebuilt the city and named it "Caesarea Philippi" - literally Philip's Caesar - after his patron Caesar Augustus. Besides a shrine dedicated to Pan, there was also a temple dedicated to Augustus as the Son of God. Consequently, Jesus' simple question - Who do people say that I am? - is both poignant and significant especially in this geographical location, which is surrounded by shrines, temples, and statues of Pan, Zeus, Apollo, Augustus, and Athena.
Consistent with his impetuous character, Peter correctly testifies that Jesus is the "Messiah," which means, "the anointed one." The question however is what kind of Messiah is Peter thinking about and is it compatible with Jesus' understanding? The reader gets a sense that Peter is on the right track until he "took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him" (v. 32), because Jesus spoke of a suffering Son of Man instead of a royal or triumphant Messiah that Peter probably envisioned. Notably the word "rebuke," used by Peter, is the same Greek word for silencing demons (Mark 1:25; 8:30; 9:25). Perhaps Peter thinks that Jesus has gone out of his mind and thus needs to be exorcised. Ironically, Peter is the one who is possessed, for Jesus swiftly and sternly rebuked him: "Get behind me, Satan!" Since Peter's Christological profession excludes the mystery of the cross, death and resurrection - in other words a suffering Messiah, he puts himself on the wrong side of the struggle and is reprimanded.
It is obvious that Peter's understanding of Jesus' Messiahship does not conform to the mission of Isaiah's suffering servant that is proclaimed in today's first reading. In this third servant song of Isaiah, the good and faithful disciple has learned to accept suffering and affliction without complaint and retaliation. He gives his back to those who strike him and his cheeks to those who pluck his beard. He does not even try to escape from the insulting spittle, but rather quietly accepts the insults and shame. How is the servant able to endure such humiliation and affliction? The servant reveals that it is the Lord GOD who actually strengthens him in his suffering and preserves him in his disgrace.
According to the evangelist Mark, Jesus is the Son of Man or Son of God (1:1; 2:10; 9:9; 14:61; 15:39) whose life, mission, and ministry are intimately connected with his passion and death. To follow after him - discipleship - means to bear one's "cross" and to share in a similar fate (Mark 8:34-38). There is no way around it. Jesus' teaching on discipleship, which took place along the way to Jerusalem - the city of his destiny - is clear: "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" (v. 35). For the Markan audience who was under persecution and perhaps resided in Rome when this Gospel was written in the late 60s, the invitation to bear the "cross" (stauros) - a horizontal cross-beam carried by executed victims - was something real and yet inspired courage under difficult situation.
Many Christians today bear the burden of the cross on a daily basis. In their suffering, they wear the marks of the crucified Christ. When we reach out to them in their suffering and are charitable in their needs - as taught by James in the second reading-perhaps that is when we correctly identify who Christ really is.
© Copyright 2012 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved
Image: Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, realising that Jesus is the Son of the living God - by William Hole (www.BiblePictureGallery.com)
vanThanh Nguyen, S.V.D.
vanThanh Nguyen, S.V.D., S.T.D., is an assistant professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union, in Chicago, Illinois a missionary of the Society of the Divine Word and the biblical coordinator of the Chicago Province. He is the acting Chair of the Department of Biblical Languages and Literature.
Additionally, he serves as a member of the editorial board and the book review editor of New Theology Review. An excerpt of his dissertation, The Legitimation of the Gentile Mission and Integration: A Narrative Approach to Acts 10:1—11:18 was published in Roma 2004. His other publications include: “Evangelizing Empire: The Gospel and Mission of St. Paul,” Sedos Bulletin 41 (May-June 2009); “A Vision of Cosmic Transformation (Rev 21:1-5),” The Bible Today 46 (6, 2008); “The Roman Empire and the New Testament,” New Theology Review 21 (2 May 2008); “Paradigm of Missionary and Christian Response (Acts 10:1-11:18),” Verbum SVD 49:2 (2008); “In Solidarity with the Strangers: The Flight into Egypt,” The Bible Today 45 (July/August 2007); “Setting the World on Fire through the Preaching of the Kingdom of God,” in Verbum SVD 40 (1999).