TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B
Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
By Fr. Euly Belizar, Jr.
THINK of the word “Messiah”. For an ordinary Jew it conjures up images of a conquering military leader. Even for an ordinary Pinoy, we might say. When you say, for instance, that a politician has a messianic complex, we know who we are talking about: someone who thinks he has the solution to society’s every problem. Imagine how many local versions we have of that and how many have fallen by the wayside trying to be who they are not, nor can ever be.
Isaiah in our first reading offers what we might call ‘alternative thinking’. He educates us painstakingly into God’s model of Messiah: No conquering hero but a Suffering Servant. He submits his back to those who, he says, “beat me”, his cheeks “to those who pluck my beard”, his face to “buffets and spitting”. But despite all this suffering there is a certainty of vindication. Why? Because, in his words, the “Lord God is my help”. The Suffering Servant Messiah does not retreat from his mission because he strongly believes in light at the end of the tunnel of pain. “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I will not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right…” As Christians it is not hard for us to see the image of Jesus in this portrait of the Suffering Servant.
Jesus in the Gospel affirms what Isaiah tells us of the Messiah. As soon as Peter confesses. “You are the Messiah”, Jesus tells him and us that he, the Son of Man “will have to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be put to death”… Usually we stop here in our consideration of the Crucified Messiah.
But that is not the whole picture.
He also says that the Suffering Messiah will “rise on the third day”. Then comes Peter’s objection. To our shock Jesus calls him “Satan”. Why? Because in denying suffering to his idea of Jesus as the Messiah, Peter is, in Jesus’ words, “judging not by God’s standards, but by man’s”.
I believe there is sometimes this side of Peter in us. It shows at times in the attitudes we entertain even as regards the poverty and disappointing Third-World inconveniences in the Philippines. We recoil at suffering and, without saying much, reject the diverse faces of it in our motherland. Meanwhile Jesus reminds us his way of the Cross should be ours too. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow me…”
And just as the Cross did not have the last say in his journey, so our own crosses are not our destiny. St Peter Damian complements Peter the Apostle by saying of the Cross: “Once as the tree of torture known–now the bright gate to Jesus’ throne.”