To read the texts click on the texts: Is 50:5-9a;Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
“Praise the Lord! Father, my son has been healed from his cancer. Brother Peter laid his hands on him and prayed and the cancer was gone.” These were the words spoken to me by the mother of a young boy who was stricken with cancer. A month later, the cancer came back stronger than before and before long, the young boy was called to eternity.
Many interpreters of Mark’s Gospel consider the Confession of Peter as the watershed of Mark’s Gospel. This confession is the first part of the Gospel text of today. In a sense, this is true because, everything up to this point in the Gospel seems to lead to this confession and it is from this confession that the rest of the Gospel flows. However, even as Peter confesses Jesus as Christ, he is not fully aware of what he is really saying and Jesus has to both correct and enhance his understanding through the words that he speaks after the confession.
The reason why Jesus asks the disciples the two questions about his identity is not because he was facing any sort of identity crisis, but because he wanted to ascertain whether the people, and his disciples, really understood who he was. Where one would have expected immediate praise from Jesus after Peter’s confession, there is the surprising command to the disciples to tell no one about it. This might even seem strange. However, deeper reading shows that this is not as strange as it seems.
In the first part of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commands both demons and some of those whom he has healed to silence after the exorcism and cures. He does not want them to reveal his identity. The main reason for this seems to be that he did not want to be understood, primarily, as a miracle or wonder worker. Here, too, he commands Peter and the disciples to silence because it is clear that, though the correct confession has been made with the lips, it is not a confession that has come from understanding, That there is lack of understanding is evident in Peter’s rebuke of Jesus after Jesus challenges him, and the disciples, to realize that, as Son of Man, he must suffer, die, and be raised. This means that the title of Messiah, for Jesus, is a title that can only be correct when in the same breath one speaks of him as the Suffering Servant of God. While, for Peter, the title “Messiah” excluded suffering, for Jesus there could be no “Messiah” without the cross and vindication after it.
This image of the Suffering servant is brought out in the first reading of today, which contains the third of the fourth servant songs found in Isaiah. In this song, the focus and elaboration is very clearly to exhort those who listen to it. They, who have witnessed the servant’s activity and suffering, are called to follow in his footsteps rather than go their own way of selfishness and self-interest. The servant, very clearly, will follow God’s will no matter how difficult it may be. God has taught him, prepared him, and will continue to help him. God will not abandon him. God has faithfully responded to the servant in his situation of distress, In fact, it is in the context of God’s attending to the servant that affliction arises and yet, is borne without complaint or resistance to bearing additional afflictions. The servant is helped by God precisely in his ability to bear assaults. God is the source of strength more than of merited justice, and God will, in time, vindicate his servant. No one is able to declare the servant guilty, yet, despite his not being guilty; he will suffer in silence and will suffer courageously.
We are living in a culture in which suffering is seen as a negative and thus, something to be avoided at all costs ad to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. This is not to say that suffering is good and desirable or that God delights in human suffering. As a matter of fact, in the second reading of today, James is emphatic that a faith that does not show itself in deeds is a faith that is dead. Only such a faith is truly alive that manifests itself in action. It has to be a faith that results in making the pain and suffering of a fellow human being less, and lighter to bear.
The Gospels, too, explicate that Jesus reaches out to people in their need and redeems them from their suffering. When he sends his disciples out on Mission, it is not merely to preach but also to heal and make whole. Yet, we must also keep in mind that suffering is part of the human condition and the fact that we are human means that we will suffer. The call of the readings of today is not a call to run away from suffering or regard it in any way as punishment from God. The call is to face up to it squarely in the manner in which Jesus did. While we continue to believe in the miracles of Jesus, and in the fact that Jesus can work miracles even today, we must balance this understanding by realizing that there is also, in Jesus, the cross. The challenge is to make God’s will for us, our own.