On the campus of St. Mary Church, Barnegat is a Stations of the Cross garden. This Station, which shows Jesus meeting his mother, as he carries his Cross. For the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch reflects on the example Jesus set by enduring his Cross. Jeff Bruno photo
On the campus of St. Mary Church, Barnegat is a Stations of the Cross garden. This Station, which shows Jesus meeting his mother, as he carries his Cross. For the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch reflects on the example Jesus set by enduring his Cross. Jeff Bruno photo

Gospel reflection for Sept. 12, 2021, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

At the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus queries the disciples about how they understand who he is, and then, consequently, how they understand his mission. We might presume that each disciple has already asked the same question himself, and they have probably even discussed it among themselves. The fact that they are so readily able to report “what the crowds are saying” about Jesus indicates that this is a common point of discussion. We know that the Jewish officials are also addressing this question. As the disciples have left their families and their livelihoods to follow Jesus, the importance of the question cannot be lost on them. When pressed by Jesus after they have repeated what the crowds are saying, it is Peter who says: “You are the Christ.”

One wonders how the disciples reacted to this declamation from St. Peter. Certainly, they must have waited anxiously to see the reaction from Jesus.

Little of what we have seen in the Gospel to this point has prepared them for what Jesus does next. Mark reports that: “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.”

This is the first of the three so-called predictions of the Passion that Jesus uses to teach his disciples.

Peter who had the spiritual courage to go out on a limb and call Jesus the Christ, now has the courage to challenge Jesus and, in effect, to reject the message.  On one level we can see the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and Peter as Peter shows the confidence to be able to rebuke Jesus. On the other hand, we see what Mark has been hinting at throughout the Gospel, that the disciples just don’t really understand who Jesus is.

Peter’s reaction is understandable on different levels. First, on a real practical level, this rejection, or denial, is a normal human reaction to hearing what seems like bad news. Having invested everything in following Jesus, they were not, at least consciously, preparing to see Jesus assassinated and their own lives threatened. We know that the disciples, who have argued about which of them was greater, were anticipating a different reception when they arrived in Jerusalem. Likewise, the sons of Zebedee seek to sit on the right and the left of Jesus in his kingdom. That question does not come from an expectation to encounter the death of the king.

Another sense of confusion among the disciples is in understanding the messianic role. The messiah was to restore the glory of the Davidic-Solomonic kingdom. Here it sounds as if Jesus is leading them to Jerusalem to fail and not to succeed.

Peter and the disciples could not grasp the meaning of the Cross. The Cross did not carry a positive meaning in the Jewish world, or indeed anywhere in the Roman world. Viewed as a sign of rejection by God and as a punishment for common criminals, the disciples necessarily had a visceral reaction to this teaching of Jesus.

Through the course of his ministry, Jesus has performed numerous miracles of healing, physically and spiritually. It almost seems that Jesus’ mission is to save us from suffering. Therefore, it seems almost incongruous to think that Jesus would endure horrific suffering in his own life.

It is not easy when we think of Jesus, and it certainly isn’t easy when we think of the various crosses we all bear in our own lives.

We have to be ever mindful in our journey of faith with Jesus that our profession of faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is the sure hope and promise of eternal life, but is also at times the cause of great suffering for us. Many still suffer the death of martyrdom for his sake. Many experience alienation from family, friends and social status for the sake of his name.

Jesus will transform the meaning of suffering by taking it upon himself and sanctify it. Our cross is his Cross, and his Cross is also our cross.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.