Today’s Gospel is one of the "Passion prediction" narratives that the evangelists share with us. It seems that Jesus must repeat this message several times to his disciples; like the Twelve, we, too, don’t like hearing about suffering. But Jesus is patient as he invites them into greater intimacy, as he invites them into the Paschal Mystery.
When Jesus asks them, "Who do you say I am?" it is almost as if he is pleading for a time of serious conversation with them. "Do I make any difference in your life? Please don’t’ respond in the abstract or the impersonal – some say Moses, Elijah, or one of the prophets. What about you?"
Sometimes the greatest obstacle, the greatest force against our faith can be "pie-in-the-sky" religion – doctrine or ritual or devotion that becomes ethereal, irrelevant. Jesus always challenges his followers to be practical. Remember when Jesus and his disciples were passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23ff) and his disciples began picking the heads of grain? The Pharisees immediately reprimanded them for violating the law. And Jesus replied, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Or when the Pharisees bring a woman caught in the act of adultery and again quote the law that she must be stoned. In time the woman walks away from the crowd transformed, not only with her life but a gulfstream of hope. Conversion happened not when the Torah was quoted, but when someone entered her world of suffering and despair.
Perhaps someone I love is asking for a serious conversation, a time for me to enter their world, a time we may both be transformed by Christ’s love.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.