This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Jesus asks a question and receives Peter’s momentous answer
18 Then came this incident. While Jesus was praying by himself, having only the disciples near him, he asked them this question: “Who are the crowd saying that I am?”
19 “Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they replied. “Others that you are Elijah, and others think that one of the old-time prophets has come to life again.”
20 Then he said, “And who do you say that I am?” “God’s Christ! said Peter.
Jesus foretells his own suffering: the paradox of losing life to find it
21-22 But Jesus expressly told them not to say a word to anybody, at the same time warning them of the inevitability of the Son of Man’s great suffering, of his repudiation by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and of his death and of being raised to life again on the third day.
23-27 Then he spoke to them all. “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, carry his cross every day and keep close behind me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it, but the man who loses his life for my sake will save it. For what is the use of a man gaining the whole world if he loses or forfeits his own soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the simple truth—there are men standing here today who will not taste death until they have seen the kingdom of God!
It’s almost impossible to tell what meaning the contemporaries of Jesus gave to the title, Messiah, (Christ is Greek for Messiah) which means anointed one. It’s not much used in the Hebrew Bible, where it is applied to kings and priests. In the century before the birth of Jesus it had certainly been used to mean a liberator of Israel from foreign rule. In the first century CE there were at least two Jewish men who proclaimed themselves Messiah and led rebellions against Rome with disastrous results. That’s enough reason for Jesus to have been wary of the title, as is indicated here. There’s also the sense that Jesus did not want the expected role of Messiah because it did not express his own sense of identity as God’s beloved son.
Doubtless the details of Jesus prophecy of his own death have been added after it took place, but it seems very likely to me that Jesus could see what lay ahead. The cross in the gospels always means the Roman instrument of torture and death; it is not spiritualised into an equivalent of “burden” or as some now say,”issues”. It means being at risk from people who rule the world. Those who behave circumspectly may save their lives but while those who insist on God’s Way may be killed; but before the Son of Man (the leader of God’s kingdom), only the latter will be rewarded with life.
The last sentence reminds the reader that Jesus expected the end of the present world and the beginning of a new world in the lifetime of his disciples. He was wrong.
Jesus was unrelenting in his opposition to oppressive rule whether in the form of religious authority or imperial force. The cross is the consequence and symbol of that opposition. Religious and secular tyrants should take note, as should Jesus’ timid disciples today.