Jesus neither welcomes nor rejects Peter’s assertion about his identity but instead speaks for the first time of his suffering, death and resurrection. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
27 Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ 28 And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said, ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ 29 ‘But you,’ he asked, ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ 30 And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; 32 and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. 33 But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
34 He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’
Other readings: Isaiah 50:5-9 Psalm 114 (116) James 2:14-18
The story told in this passage lies at the very heart of the drama of Mark’s gospel. The question about the identity of Jesus is really a question about why he has come. People thought back to the great figures in the long history of the Jewish people as they attempted to understand the mission of Jesus. Jesus indeed shares the passion for the truth of John the Baptist, the strength and power of Elijah, and the spiritual qualities of other prophets. But Peter makes a greater claim for Jesus. He is the Messiah!
Jesus’ reaction should be considered with care. He neither welcomes Peter’s assertion nor rejects it. Jesus speaks for the first time of his suffering, death and resurrection. In doing so he challenges Peter’s expectations about the Messiah, which were no doubt shared by others. The Messiah will not claim power for himself; he will not dominate others. On the contrary, others will have power over him; he will be dominated.
In giving up his life Jesus opens up a new way, a new vision, a vision of self-giving love. From this point onwards the Gospel of Mark will draw us inexorably into the mystery of the cross, the mystery of God’s love revealed in the human life of the Son of God, which explains the meaning and purpose of our own lives too.
Who is Jesus for me?
Am I willing to accept Jesus’ words about the cross?
Let us pray for fidelity and courage as we discover more about God’s purposes.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy