The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, brings us to the very centre of Mark’s Gospel. It is literally the very middle of his text; and also the passage engages with the very core of the message of Mark – the tension between the glory of faith and faithfulness and the experience of the persecution and death of Jesus, and the continuing experience of persecution in the Church.
Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’
Peter welcomes the Gospel of Glory – that Jesus is the Christ. Peter cannot accept the Cross, and in his rejection of the Cross, Peter is renamed Satan by Jesus!
Mark is believed to have written his Gospel, informed directly by his hearing the reminiscences of St Peter. He writes in the wake not only of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the subsequent martyrdom of St Peter. It is believed that many in his first audience were survivors of the persecution of the Church in Rome, and not a few of them survivors because they denied the faith or fled.
The Church is a community of sinners (and therefore in some sense failures) but the Church is not always comfortable in admitting it, not least to itself. Mark confronts us with the challenge of getting real about ourselves and how it is through such defeats that we become more and more fit for sharing in the triumph that is ours, not by our success, but by the Glory of Christ, crucified but now risen from the dead.
- How have I learnt from failure?
- What I have I failed to learn from my failures?
- How can I share what I have learnt?
St Peter, depicted on the Syon Cope, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London © 2015, Allen Morris.