(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Jesus spends much time traveling around Galilee and the region across the Jordan. Eventually, though, he heads towards Jerusalem for the last time. He knows that the disciples do not yet understand why this must be. It is hard for any of us to understand why this must be. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus begins to explain.
Jesus 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.”
The people seem to have strange ideas about Jesus. John the Baptist, Elijah, the prophets—they are all dead. Do the people actually think that Jesus is one of these people, resurrected from the dead?
John the Baptist, Elijah, the prophets—alive, they speak about One who is to come, One who is Chosen, One who is Sent by God. They are all people who, as best as they are able, give their lives to God. The people of Galilee and the region across the Jordan River can tell that Jesus is like these people.
Except, Jesus does not speak about One who is to come. And Jesus' disciples know this.
Jesus 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.
Messiah is the Hebrew word for "Anointed One." It is the same as the Greek word, "Christ." Someone who is anointed has holy oil poured on their head to show that they are chosen by God for an important job or mission. Priests, prophets, and kings are all anointed, chosen by God for something important. Holy scripture contains different descriptions of the Messiah. People have different ideas of what the Messiah will be like.
One who is a king?
One who leads the people to victory in battle?
One who redeems the people and their promised land?
No one is sure.
Peter and the other disciples are sure that Jesus is Chosen by God. They know he is the Messiah. But what do they think the Messiah is Chosen to do?
Jesus needs them to understand before they start spreading the word.
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.
This is not news for us; we know this about Jesus. For the disciples, though, this is earth-shattering. Although there is an image of a Suffering Servant in holy scripture, it is not clear that this person will be the King, the Victor in battle, the Redeemer. The disciples are not prepared for a Messiah who suffers and dies. And although there is talk of life after death, they are not prepared for a Messiah who rises to eternal life. This is all new. There is so much to think about, and the part that captures their attention and horrifies their imagination, is the suffering. And the death.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Peter does not see why Jesus should have to suffer and die. Avoid Jerusalem. It cannot possibly be God's plan that Jesus should suffer. The God that Peter knows is not the God of suffering.
But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus turns and looks at all the disciples so that all of them can hear this. He is not speaking about suffering and death—and of rising, (why do they keep forgetting about the rising?)—in order to be talked out of this plan.
He calls Peter, "Satan." This is a name commonly used for the Evil One. Is Jesus calling Peter evil? The word "satan" in Hebrew means "tempt" or "test." It must be a great temptation for Jesus to turn away from suffering and death. Who wants to suffer? Who wants to die? Jesus loves living. But Jesus knows that turning away means not being who he is meant to be. Turning away is not being who he is Chosen to be.
It is not so much about doing. It is first of all about being.
Jesus knows that being the Messiah means living his life, listening to God and proclaiming the Kingdom. He knows that being the Messiah will lead to his death—not because that is what God wants him to do, but because this is who God has Chosen him to be.
Jesus knows that all the sin and pain in the world will seem to overwhelm him. It will seem that death has won and Goodness has lost. But like Peter, Jesus knows that God is not the God of suffering.
God is Lover. God is Giver.
Jesus knows that Messiah means being love, being gift.
Jesus loves God with his whole being. He makes his whole life Gift to the world.
Sin and pain and death do not win. They are overwhelmed in Love and Gift and Life.
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.
Saving and losing, losing and saving. This is confusing. What are we supposed to do?
But it is not so much about doing. It is first of all about being.
Then where do we start? Who are we to be?
Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus is the Anointed One. We start with Jesus.
At our Baptism, we are also anointed, and again at Confirmation. Holy oil, called the Oil of Chrism is slathered onto our heads. Chrism is Christ's oil, the Messiah's oil. We are Chosen—Chosen by God for something important. We could say we are to be little Messiahs. As best as we are able, we love God with our whole being. As best as we are able, we make our lives Gift to the world.
But how? We will be shown how. We will know, just as Jesus knows. The doing will come. But first of all, we just be.