Sunday’s Gospel takes us to a town with an amazing history. (Be sure to read the article I’ve included in the Liturgy of the Word.) It was called Balinas for it had once been a great center of worship of the pagan god, Baal. To this day it is called Banias, which is a form of Panias. It is so called because up on the hillside there was a cavern which was said to be the birthplace of the Greek god, Pan, the god of nature. From a cave in the hillside gushed forth a stream which was held to be the source of the River Jordan. Farther up on the hillside rose a gleaming temple of white marble which Philip had built to the godhead of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, the ruler of the world, who was regarded as a god.
It is an amazing thing that it was here of all places that Peter saw in a Galilean carpenter, the Son of God.
Peter’s confession of faith comes in the middle of Mark’s Gospel and is the Gospel’s peak moment. No sooner had Peter made this profession than Jesus told him he must tell no one of it. Why? Because, first and foremost, Jesus had to teach Peter and the others what messiahship really meant.
When Jesus connected messiahship with suffering and death, he was making statements that were to the disciples both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of irresistible conquest, and now they were being presented with an idea which staggered them. That is why Peter so violently protested.
Why did Jesus so sternly rebuke Peter? Because at that moment Jesus was refighting the battle temptation of the wilderness. This was the devil tempting him again to fall down and worship him, to take his way instead of God’s way.
No one of us could ever say that we were induced to follow Jesus by false pretenses. He never tried to persuade us by the offer of an easy way.
Jesus left no middle ground. There is no room for fair-weather disciples in the kingdom of God. Those following Jesus merely for free meals and quick access to healing need not waste their time or His. The path to glory, he tells the crowd and disciples, is to “take up one’s cross.”
Such an exacting message had a way of thinning the crowd.
Liturgy of the Word | 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Director of Adult Formation