for Sunday, September 13, 2009
Scholars tell us that that St Mark was a close acquaintance of St Peter
and that what he wrote in his Gospel was composed principally from what St
Peter taught about the life of Christ in his sermons to the members of the
This explains Mark's use of the phrase "get behind me Satan".
Peter was held in very great respect by the Church, as befits the person
chosen by Christ to lead the Church.
Now I don't know about you, but if I were selecting material to put
in an account of the life of Christ I'm sure that I'd be tempted to
leave that bit out, not wanting to get on the wrong side of my boss!
But if Peter himself when speaking about that incident always used that
particular phrase then we can see how Mark would feel quite comfortable in
using it. Not only that, but we can be quite confident that these words
were actually spoken by Jesus.
In is in closely examining these small phrases and unpicking what lies
behind them that our faith in the authenticity of the Gospels is
reinforced. We come to realise that they have what we can only call the
"ring of truth" about them and so our faith in the text and in Christ
Of course, the question Jesus asks the Apostles is the question we must
all ask ourselves: "Who do you say I am?"
Every time we look at a crucifix or gaze on a picture of Christ we can
imagine it with those words written underneath: "Who do you say I am?"
In our prayer and meditation we can usefully spend time pondering the
answer to that question.
And in doing so we come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God
and indeed that he is the one true Saviour of the World.
If we can confess these things then we can truly call ourselves
Christians. But, of course, it can't rest there because by confessing
these truths we must face the fact that there then follow consequences for
our own lives.
If Christ is indeed the Saviour of the World that means that he came
among us for the specific purpose of saving us from our sins and he did so
by giving his life in sacrifice.
Any follower of his must therefore be highly conscious of this and be
always ready to imitate our Master through forgiving the sins of those who
offend against us. This is no easy task but it is the absolute logical
consequence of acknowledging Christ as the Saviour of the World.
Forgiving people is one thing but we also have to think about the
method Jesus used to achieve his mission. And from the text placed before
us to day we can see how this is summed up in one word: Sacrifice.
The disciples do not understand why Jesus has to suffer and die on the
Cross which is why Peter remonstrates with Jesus. But the strength of the
rebuke, "Get behind me Satan" clearly indicates that Jesus understands
that is the only way that his mission will be achieved.
Indeed the strong language is also an indication that even telling them
about it is not easy for Jesus. From this we can conclude that he is most
likely already experiencing the temptation to avoid the Cross that we are
to hear much more about when we come to the account of the events in the
Garden of Gethsemane.
This way of suffering and sacrifice is not something only for Jesus;
suffering and sacrifice are what being a Christian is all about. That is
the principal message of today's Gospel.
Jesus is not asking them who they think he is in order to improve his
reputation. He is doing so in order to help his disciples to realise what
a heavy price they will pay to be a Christian.
In a sense he is also warning off any one who might be tempted to
follow him in a light-hearted or casual way.
Jesus knows that he is going to give his life on the Cross but he also
knows that many of his listeners will end up being Martyrs for the Gospel
and so here he takes the opportunity to warn them what they are likely to
But what about those of us who do not face persecution or martyrdom?
That does not mean that we are exempt from the life of sacrifice. Christ
does not refer to any specific outcome; he is talking, rather, about a
whole way of life. He wants us to live our live for others even to the
extent of making huge sacrifices on their behalf.
This self-giving way of life extends to include sufferings of all
kinds. It might mean putting up with a partner who has become cold or
distant, dealing with a problem child, being extra patient with an ailing
parent, a demanding boss or irritating colleagues.
It might mean facing up to physical or psychological illness. It could
dealing with all kinds of personal difficulties such as shortage of money,
debt, lack of education, or hard moral choices. It might mean struggling
with addictions of all kinds either personally or in a close family
member. And it also can include living with serious personal failings such
as a short temper, laziness or compulsive disorders.
All these things and many more can make up the Cross that Christ here
warns us is an essential part of following him.
If what I'm saying sounds too much like a message of doom and gloom
then think again.
You surely understand that with or without faith the sorts of things
that I have been describing happen in life anyway. Faith in Christ and a
desire to follow his Gospel is actually the only thing that can make sense
of all these things. Faith in Christ is what helps us to cope and in many
cases to overcome our problems.
Understanding that these things are our small share in carrying the
Cross of Christ fills them with meaning and purpose. It lifts them up from
the merely mundane and helps us to see their universal significance. By
understanding that our difficulties have a spiritual dimension and that
they are part of the Redemption of the World gives us hope and renews our
The upshot of all this is not depression but joy.
For Christ has won the battle, the victory over sin and death has been
achieved; everything is destined to work towards the good. Of course, the
world has not yet come to an end and there is much left to be worked
through but to Christ belongs the Victory and we can see that the extent
of our sufferings are in some way the measure of our share in the glory
Christ has won for us.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: