As Jesus puts this question to Peter in this Sunday’s Gospel, there is a possibility that we might hear it as a question that He is putting only to Peter as a way of inviting Peter alone to make a profession of faith regarding Jesus’ identity. It is, however, clear from the way that Jesus responds to Peter’s answer that Jesus has far more in mind then simply asking Peter whom He thinks Jesus to be. Jesus responds to Peter’s answer by telling him exactly what His mission is about and by explaining to Peter that those who truly believe that He is the Christ must live their lives in a way that reflects what they profess Him to be.
As soon as Peter has confessed who it is that He believes Jesus to be—“The Christ of God”—Jesus explains to Peter what this means and speaks of the way in which people who confess this must live their lives. Jesus tells Peter that the mission of the Christ is to be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and on the third day to be raised. The resurrection of which Jesus speaks entails the gift of eternal life for all people who believe in Him. Immediately after Jesus has told Peter what His mission is, He tells Peter what the mission of His own followers must also be. He says: “If anyone wants to be my follower, let him deny Himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.” Jesus does not say to Peter, “if you wish to be my follower,” as though this was something intended only for Peter and the Apostles to worry about. He says, “If anyone wishes to be my follower,” indicating that all of us are called to follow Jesus by modelling our lives on who we claim we believe Him to be. As the Gospel antiphon states: “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord, I know them, and they follow me.”
In our Christian faith we confess Jesus to be many different things—teacher, healer, friend, companion, and Saviour are just a few examples. Each one of these aspects ought to inform the way we live our lives. Obviously, no one homily could completely deal with all of the ways that what we profess about Jesus should influence our lives. This Sunday, as we hear this Gospel during the week we will prepare to celebrate our parish’s 125th anniversary, it is important to ask how what we believe about Jesus should affect the way in which we respond to His presence in our lives and serve Him within our community of faith.
Jesus asks this question of Peter at an important point in the Gospel of Mark. This episode takes place at the half-way point in the Gospel. During the first half of the Gospel, Jesus has been working wonders and showing signs to the people that they might know who He is. The signs that He worked have been intended to get his followers to acknowledge that Christ is the Messiah, the Holy one of God. Once Jesus has led His disciples to understand who He is, He will begin to speak about what it will mean for them to be His disciples and the cost of that calling. However, before I speak about what Jesus invites us to by way of discipleship, I would like to say just a few words about the Gospel of Mark in general.
Scripture scholars tell us that Mark’s Gospel was written around the year 70 A.D.. This was a difficult time for the Church. At this time, the Church in Rome had experienced the deaths of Peter and Paul, martyred at the hands of the Roman Empire. The Church in Jerusalem was also suffering greatly as the Romans were persecuting both the Jews and the Gentiles, and had destroyed the Temple that was sacred to the Jewish- Christian community. For many of the early Christians, they could not understand how after they had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they would have to undergo suffering. As they saw the death of the great Christian Apostles, Peter and Paul, they wondered what was the point in following Christ. Mark writes His Gospel to remind Christians that the point of following Christ was in order that they might live with Him in this life and share eternal life with Him in the life to come. Jesus was not a lucky charm to protect them from difficulties. He came to strengthen His followers to face these adversities and help them endure to eternal life. A disciple is one who will follow Christ throughout the trials of life, take up his or her cross, and persevere through to eternal life. Those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah are also called to live as His disciples serving Him and walking with Him in life.
How each one of us responds to the call to discipleship is something that each one of us must discern on our own. There is not one answer for all people. Each person must weigh the responsibilities that he or she has to work, family and different circumstances in order to decide how he or she is able to respond. A parent with many young children has obligations that a person who does not have children does not have to worry about. A retired person who is healthy may have more ability to get involved than a person with health issues. In a booklet on Stewardship that has been prepared by Cardinal Collins, there is a beautiful meditation on Stewardship and Discipleship that may help each person discern how she/he may answer the call of discipleship and assist the Lord and the Church with its mission.
Cardinal Collins has written that Stewardship is a response to God’s generosity to us by sharing from all that we have been given of our time, talent and treasure. As our parish celebrates its 125th anniversary next Sunday, I was hoping that this would be an opportunity to extend an invitation to everyone to get involved in the community as we once again are able to re-open all of our many ministries. There will be an open house and ministry fair at the Church next weekend from noon until 4:00 p.m. We will also have Solemn Sung Vespers at 4:00 p.m. in the church next Sunday to conclude the day. As it now appears we may have a fourth wave of COVID this fall, our re-opening may not be as soon as I had hoped. However, I would ask that you consider ways of getting involved, or that you might be able to support the parish, through your gifts of time, talent and treasure. As we continue through yet another year of the pandemic, your support continues to be extremely necessary for the up-keep of your Church and the continuation of our parish’s mission within our community.
Before Peter could answer the question that Jesus asked when He said: “Who do you day that I am?” Peter had to get to know who Jesus was and learn about Him. That is something that each of us also needs—we need to know who Jesus is before we can answer the call to discipleship. On-going faith formation is something that our parish has always offered to its members and those who are interested. The Rites of Christian Initiation have been offered to those who have wanted to become Catholic. We have also had many programs for Catholics and other Christians hoping to learn more about their faith. This did not happen last year as a result of the pandemic, but this year I would like to see these programs return. Gabriel Nakonechny, who has been hired for the year to fill in for Sister Gabriel while she recovers. He will be offering a program on the Creed. The Creed is the expression of our faith that we normally use to express who we believe Jesus to be. Gabriel will say a few words after Mass about the program he will be offering and when it will take place.
Next weekend, our parish community will celebrate its 125th anniversary as a community of faith. There will be a beautiful history of the parish given out at all the Masses. As we celebrate our parish’s anniversary, this is a great occasion for all of us to answer Jesus’ question about who we believe Him to be by examining our own commitment to discipleship and our community of faith. The members of this parish who have gone before us were known throughout this city for their commitment to serve the needs of others and openness to those who desired to learn more about the faith. Please take the time to read Cardinal Collins’ letter on Stewardship and to pray about how you can respond in your answer about who Jesus is for you and the discipleship that this calls you to within our community of faith.
If as Peter, we believe Jesus to be the Messiah, Christ’s words to Peter make it clear that this belief entails a response of discipleship for all of us.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s Church—Toronto, Ontario.
This reflection based on the reading for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B: Isaiah 50: 4-9; Psalm 116; James 2: 14-18; Mark 8: 27-35.