Gospel Lectio Divina for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept 12, 2021
Jesus and his disciples set out 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.”
“But who do you say that I am?”
God. I say Jesus is God. Perhaps we do not acknowledge that enough. We talk about his wise teachings, his sacrifice for our sins, his love for us as shown in the Eucharist. Who he is to us could mean many important things, but do we acknowledge that he is God, the truth in the flesh? The fact that Jesus never actually says he is God has caused some controversy in religious discussions. He calls himself the Son of Man, the Way, the Truth, the Life. Those who know God hear his voice. He didn’t even have to say that he was God and people still came to believe it because they heard God speaking through him. Thomas, upon meeting the risen Christ, said, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus confirmed it, saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). There are many other instances in the Gospels where people say and ask if Jesus is the son of God--making him equal to God--and he either affirms it or does not deny it. His magnanimity supports the claim because if he were to say it of himself outright, he could be labeled an imposture. Waiting for others to come to the realization does more to affirm his identity as the Lord of all.
“You are the Christ.”
It took a great deal of faith for Peter to say this. To Jews at the time, Jesus being the Christ would have meant that he is the one the prophets spoke of, the one sent by God to save Israel, his very son. Mark leaves out the “son of the living God” part, but it is implied and Matthew does say it when telling this same story (Matthew 16:16). This further solidifies Christ’s divine strategy to lead people to truth. He, being the truth in the flesh, does not want to draw attention to himself as much as he wants to bring the disciples to a genuine recognition of truth on their own. This has to be the order in our relationship with God as well. We can’t sustain a relationship with him by simply assuming he is the truth just because he said he was or other people told us he is. We have to come to a recognition of the truth on our own and then realize that the truth we have come to know is God.
“Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Not only is this a powerful rebuke. It is also a good thing to say in moments of temptation. Or, when we do fall into sin, it is a good thing to say because Satan often tempts us to blame us of our sin and tell us God will never forgive us. “Get behind me, Satan” is a rebuke of the way the world thinks because Satan is the culprit in that mode of thinking. He is the tempter and the accuser. Satan wants us to forget about God and his plans, which involve sacrifice, in favor of our base desires and flawed human understandings. In what way is God calling me to sacrifice today?
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
The context of Christ’s words is important. Clearly he is concerned about delaying his passion. But is it because he doesn’t want to suffer. One can meditate on that. He is human. But he also wants to reserve the news that he is the Christ for his apostles only, those who trust him and those he can trust, or at least the 11 he can trust. Even as he speaks these words he most likely knew about Judas. So he was not avoiding his passion altogether. He knew by telling the disciples, with Judas present, that Judas would eventually reveal him to the authorities, despite him telling Judas not to. Christ’s entire passion was not brought about by him, yet he knew it had to happen and knew that it would. He knew human nature and he knew God’s plan. Jesus’ passion and death are the perfect example of God’s permissive will. He did not will it to happen, but he knew that it would and he knew how to bring the ultimate good out of it.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
This is what it means to be a Christian, and it is also the hardest part. When we follow Christ our life is no longer about us. It may be tough to see the connection between Christ’s words to Peter and these words that follow. But Christ is saying that Peter is chasing after the wrong thing. He may think he is protecting Christ, but in reality Peter is only protecting his idea of who Christ should be. He is rebuked by Christ for his vanity. Peter did not trust Jesus, and by not trusting he was not denying himself because he was relying on his own understanding.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. He explains to us why we must deny ourselves. My own idea of goodness and happiness are flawed. If I pursue my own desires and do not deny myself, that will only lead me to a dead end.
but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
In denying myself I die to myself. I give up what I think is best in exchange for Christ. Living for Christ is not always rewarding. In fact, it makes us a loser both in the eyes of the world and in our own lives in a very real way. Christ makes it very clear that in order to follow him we have to let go of the things we cherish and tread into uncomfortable waters. We often have to say goodbye to our favorite treasures in exchange for the kingdom. What is this pearl of great price for which we give up so much? It often seems so distant and obscure. It is the touch of God. When he intervenes in your life and you know it, there is nothing like it. When he speaks to you in ways that only he can, in ways that only you can understand, answering the very specific questions you had with Scripture, the words of others, or life itself, and you know he is there listening to you, waiting for you to listen. An eternity of this intimacy also awaits us if we would just believe. This life can only contain glimpses of it because of our mortal state. That heart-stopping, tear-jerking, epiphany-giving joy that comes to us telling us that God exists, that glimpse of heaven, that is what we give up everything to obtain.
Dear Jesus, the Christ,
Thank you for showing me what is of greatest worth in this life. I am sorry for failing to notice and failing to take up my own cross. What a heavy burden it is every day, but it is only heavy because I so often try to carry it alone. If I would but reach out to you and ask for assistance, you would come running to my aid. I know because you have so many times in the past. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for the glimpses of heaven you give us that remind us of the glory that awaits us. Please help me to stay on the right path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Jesus speaks to us so intimately all of the time. He does not fail to reach us. It’s our stubbornness that fails to hear him when he answers us with the exact truth we need to hear or experience. Our free will is the only thing in the universe God has no control over. Love is the only force strong enough to win over a human heart. So he loves us. That’s the way God designed it. He wants the relationship between us and him to be governed by the most powerful force he created. Do we love him? If we do, we will listen to him.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.