In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus asks His disciples what the people are thinking about Him: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” When the disciples mention John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the “ancient prophets,” He asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter replies “The Messiah of God.”
Then Jesus tells them not to say this to anyone. Why? After all, Jesus told the people in Nazareth that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21). For me, the explanation lies in what Jesus tells the disciples after Peter’s confession of faith: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Jesus is telling the disciples how He was going to save the people, not by military triumph over the Romans, nor even by getting rid of the corrupt leadership of the Jews. He was going to save the people by His death on the Cross and His Resurrection.
It would take time for the people to understand this. It took quite a bit of time for those closest to Jesus to understand it. I think Jesus knew that He had to tell and show the people in His own way how the Messiah would be. The people were not ready if the disciples just blurted out the news without any understanding. There were a lot of expectations associated with the coming of the Messiah, most of them wrong. The Messiah would save the people, not by conquest, but by sacrifice.
The challenge for us is that there is still a great temptation to try to fit Gospel values into worldly considerations, or, to put it another way, try to portray worldly values as Gospel ones. As we heard this past Sunday, we cannot serve both God and mammon.
We pray for the grace to follow our Messiah in love and sacrifice for others and for the world.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.