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In todayís Gospel reading, the disciples got something they didnít expect. They were used to Jesus asking them questions while they traveled, and today was no different, ďWho do people say that I am?Ē An innocent enough question. Just like a politician asking about the approval ratings, Jesus just wanted to know how the message was going over. The disciples respond favorably: ďJesus, your popularity is really growing. Youíre in the ranks of the really well known figures like John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the great prophets.Ē But then came another question, one they didnít expect. ďBut who do you say that I am?Ē
The message may play in Peoria, but how about on the homefront. Are you, Jesus asks, are you understanding what Iím saying? Is the message sinking in? Simon Peter spoke up, perhaps speaking on behalf of the group, ďYou are the Messiah.Ē We cheer for Peter. ďGood going. You answered correct!Ē
But then Jesus takes the conversation in another unexpected direction. He starts talking about death. His own death. And since they were his followers, Jesus could also have been referring to their deaths as well.
The people of Israel had prayed for the coming of the Messiah for many, many years. The coming of the Messiah was to be a joyous occasion, when Israel would throw off the Roman tyranny and finally be the free state that God destined her to be. Many thought that the Messiah would be a great military leader, one who would muster a vast army to bring about Godís final victory. So why this talk about death, Jesus? Letís focus on the victory, not your own demise. Obviously, the disciples didnít understand what Jesus was talking about. No wonder he told them not to tell anyone. This isnít a Messiah that the people, even the disciples, expected. The people of Israel expected the Messiah to be a figure of glory, not of suffering and self-sacrifice. No, Jesus wasnít the Messiah that they expected.
So Peter, with the best of intentions took Jesus aside. Scripture doesnít reveal to us the details of Peterís conversation with Jesus, and I think thatís probably a good thing. Given Jesusí reaction to Peterís rebuke, itís probably out of grace that we donít know how miserably Peter put his foot in his mouth.
Jesus responds with strong words, much like the Letter of James speaks with strong words. Jesus wants them to understand, wants them to see the height and depth and breadth of Godís unconditional love for them, but once again, they donít get it. God wants them to love their neighbor as themselves, but they can only think about themselves. Jesus taught them that sometimes doing what God requires can take a lot of work, but they only
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