The Gospel reading for the 24th Sunday in O.T. is from Mark’s Gospel, and it follows Matthew 16:13-25.
“You are the Christ”
Mark and Matthew each tell us that Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter adds, you are the Son of the Living God. Note that when the people are asked who Jesus is, their response is not far from the mark. They call him Elijah or John the Baptist. These are the two prophets who are the heralds of the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Malachi tells us that Elijah will announce the terrible day of the coming of the Lord. And John the Baptist, too, tells us to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 40:1-3. Elijah and John figure so importantly in messianic literature that they are arguably characters in the Book of Revelation: the two olive trees and lamp stands, who have the power to prophecy in Revelation 11.
But it is unsurprising that Peter, spokesman of the Apostles, properly identifies Jesus. The faith of Peter is a recurring theme throughout the Gospels. In John 6:68-69, Peter similarly confesses that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but in the context of the Bread of Life discourse. In each of these instances, Peter’s confession is an expression of trust in the Lord – of pure faith.
Get Behind Me Satan
No sooner has Peter called Jesus the Christ, when Jesus corrects him with the harsh words, get behind me, Satan. Jesus reminds his readers that while even his closest associates, such as Peter, may recognize him as the Christ, not even the Apostles can see the future, nor understand, in advance, the mission of Jesus. Only Jesus understands that his destiny encompasses the humiliation of the cross, and the resurrection.
With the phrase get behind me Satan, Jesus is warning Peter and the others not to alter the destiny of Jesus (nor the church), by taking the situation into their own hands. Christ’s destiny is ordained by God himself. Some scholars read too much into this comment directed at Peter. Yet, it would indeed be the work of the devil himself, metaphorically speaking, to undo the salvific work of the cross. Jesus warns Peter not to be a victim of “good intentions,” since what is required of a good disciple is not “good intentions,” but rather sincere faith and obedience to Christ, even when things get difficult.
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me
Jesus concludes the passage by telling his closest disciples that they must take up their own cross and follow Jesus. He refers both to the burden of discipleship, which must be borne joyfully, as well as his own death. One might imagine that the phrase “take up the cross” is not a slip by the editor, but rather a reference to a commonly known, and feared, punishment used by the Romans to impose order on non-citizens of the Empire. Jesus then doubles-down on the analogy by stating, whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. Mark likes the term “Gospel” or “Good News” (euaggellion), and uses it five times in his own Gospel. Jesus seems to reiterate to Peter and the disciples that a challenging road lies ahead, both for Jesus and the disciples.
Gospel Mk 8:27-35
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”