Jesus was always one step ahead in the game-plan of salvation. And rightly so. It would be in his body, and through his life, that God’s eternal plan for us, his people, needed to unfold. That plan – a plan for our good, our forgiveness, our redemption – was hatched in the eternal heart of the Blessed Trinity, to be then enacted in the human life of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Like a well-crafted game plan, God had his moves lined up to bamboozle the opposition, and to bring home the result needed. You don’t reach the finals by ‘winging it’.
Over the past several Sundays, we have been gradually seeing something of God’s plan unfolding, first in the teachings of Jesus and then in the miracles he performed. Jesus first spoke of the promises of God, and then he showed them in action. And the people were impressed. As we know from following the story of the gospels, people were won over by the authority of Jesus’ teaching, unlike that of the scribes and Pharisees they usually heard from, and they were prepared to travel to wherever Jesus was to experience from him his healing touch.
But remember, Jesus was always one step ahead in God’s game-plan. So, today, in something of a surprise move, Jesus reveals to those who wish to remain with him, the fuller picture of his identity and intentions, and our part in it. ‘Who do you say I am?’ is not a question we will likely ever ask of another person (other than perhaps a spouse). To ask this is to place ourselves in the most vulnerable of positions; it is to take the deepest of risks of placing your very identity, your very self, in the hands of someone else.
This is what Jesus did, however, so as to draw out of his disciples the truth of his life. They had heard the words, and seen the actions; they were impressed and show the possibility of throwing in their lot with the preacher from Nazareth. But now he was asking of them to go further and deeper; to get to the heart of the matter. And so, we hear of Peter’s realisation: you are the Christ, God’s anointed and promised Messiah. Peter articulates, perhaps even as a surprise to himself, that Jesus was the fulfilment of God’s long-awaited promise.
Let’s just pause there for a second… Jesus has just trusted his disciples to make the leap of faith that would reveal the truth of his life among them. ‘Jesus’ – which means God saves; ‘Emmanuel’ – God among us; ‘Christ’ – God’s anointed. He whom the disciples had longed for throughout their lives, was the Master they were now following in trust and hope. Imagine what that moment must have felt like; imagine if you were Peter, or Mary Magdala? The ‘a-ha’ moment, the ‘wow’ moment; an awesome moment of grace that changed everything.
But how was it to change? Here is where Jesus makes an entirely unexpected play in God’s game plan, even a shocking manoeuvre. I am your redeemer, but I will be so in suffering, rejection and death, and not as conqueror or hero. I am the Suffering Servant, not the invincible leader – this is my deepest identity, my truest self. Take my cross and follow me.
There is always a shocking dimension about being a disciple of Christ, instead of a disciple of the world. We look to throw our lot in with Him who took a path we would rather not have to go down. We do not relish the way of suffering, but as disciples of Christ we see it for where it takes us – to the life that is manifest in the words Jesus spoke and the deeds he did. So, Jesus said to his disciples, and he says to us: take up the cross, for it is your path to the saving of your life.
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021