Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction on these reflections before carrying on:
The story continues this week as we follow the unfolding of the Gospel of Mark. So far, Jesus has spent much time in Galilee, healing but also an emphasis on teaching though this Gospel presents little of this teaching. From Galilee, Jesus went north out of Jewish territory and had several encounters with Gentiles as we saw last week. In all of this, boundaries are established. The crowds are enthusiastic and spread around all that Jesus had done, despite his protestations to the contrary. This note of caution by the evangelist is a reminder not to jump to conclusions, the full significance and importance of Jesus will only be revealed on the cross (Truly this man was the Son of God) to be followed by the resurrection.
Important is the negative reaction of the Pharisees. As they know the Law it is easy for them to pick up what Jesus is saying as a threat to their position. Also around from the very beginning of the Gospel have been the disciples. Jesus has to struggle with them as their hearts were hardened.
Bringing the story to the point that we reached last week, Jesus with his disciples in a boat warns the disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees and tries to draw out for the them the significance of all that he had been doing. Yet his final comment to them is “Do you still not understand?”
From that we move to the next stage in the story which explores this further. This stage of the story is framed by the two healings of blind men. The first comes just before the Gospel for this Sunday but not included. The second is the healing of Bartimaeus just before Jesus makes the final ascent going up to Jerusalem. This will be read on the 30th Sunday. For seven Sundays therefore we will be following Jesus from Caesarea Philippi this Sunday all the way to Jericho. We need to see the continuity, how they are all linked together, especially for this Sunday’s passage.
The scene at Caesarea Philippi heard this Sunday is famous in its more elaborate version in Matthew, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church”. That this scene in Mark and in Luke is much simpler is a warning against the over emphasis on Matthew’s version which has been prevalent for so many centuries.
This Sunday’s reading is as I have mentioned preceded by the first healing of a blind man. Like the healing of the deaf man last Sunday, this one is unusually complicated. It can be seen as a sign that much understanding is still needed. The healing of Bartimaeus by contrast will be instant.
We come therefore to this Sunday’s Gospel passage, the very centre of the Gospel. Jesus at Caesarea Philippi is the furthest north in Galilee, from here the journey is steadily south, to Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ destiny. At this point that destiny is unveiled for the first time, that he will suffer and rise again.
This centre piece of the Gospel is closely integrated with four parts. First there is the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ. His identity is made clear. Then the announcement to the disciples of his destiny, that he must suffer. Then Jesus teaches that his followers and would-be followers, the crowd, must take up the cross themselves if they are to follow him.
The Christian message is though as St Paul says that we must suffer if we are to share his glory. Accordingly, this teaching of suffering for himself and his followers is followed and completed by a scene of glory as Jesus on a high mountain is transfigured before the three disciples. This scene of the Transfiguration is left out of the Sunday readings because it is read twice elsewhere, on the 2nd Sunday of Lent and on the feast itself, 6th August. Yet we must keep in mind that climax as we reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel. Glory is the destiny of Jesus, glory is our destiny.
Looking at this a little more closely, we are told at the beginning that they are "on the way" This motif is mentioned several times, marking the journey to Jerusalem. At the end Bartimaeus follows Jesus "on the way" from Jericho to Jerusalem).
Jesus then puts the question of his identity to the disciples. We the readers already know the answer from the heading of the Gospel: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. For the people of his time Jesus would have been regarded a prophet. Jesus asks the question specifically of the disciples: Peter's reply in the Greek is that Jesus is the Christ. Many translations use the Hebrew equivalent "Messiah". Both mean God's anointed one. At he time of the scene, Peter's reply may have been "Messiah" with its Jewish expectations. For later Christians, "Christ" would have been understood in light of Jesus as the risen Lord so "Christ" is the better choice for us. The command to silence shows this will only be clear after the crucifixion and the cry of the centurion.
With the second part, Jesus begins to teach about his fate which now looms large in the story of this Gospel and to explain the meaning of this journey to Jerusalem. That he must suffer leads to the first of three predictions of this fate. Traditionally known as Passion Predictions, in all the climax is that he will rise again. We need to leave behind the traditional emphasis on the passion, shown for example by this week’s feast of our Lady of Sorrows.
Peter cannot accept this; the necessity for suffering was not on his agenda when he called Jesus Messiah. So he rebukes Jesus only to be rebuked himself by Jesus in front of the other disciples in the harshest of terms. Satan recalls the temptation of Jesus after his baptism.
The crowd are now summoned (and we don’t ask where they came from) so that all hear about the consequences of following Jesus: the way of the cross will be the way for his followers as well. It is in the end the way to life. Following Jesus will cost not less than everything. The Sunday Gospel ends at this point. Yet a hint of the next step follows when Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
The Transfiguration now gives that first glimpse of Jesus transfigured into glory. The whole episode comes to the climax with the voice from the crowd: This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.
Suddenly they saw no one, only Jesus.