The Gospel reading proclaimed at Mass yesterday, Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, has an exceptional intensity to it.
It moves in short order from what might seem like a rather casual conversation about ‘the crowd’ and maybe their foolishness, through a profession of faith and trust and pride in Jesus (from Peter), to a revelation of tension, trial, and testing, culminating into an invitation to embrace paradox and learn to find life by choosing death.
Mark writes a tight text: the themes are of Dostoevskian weight and capable of being explored at Dostoevskian length, but Mark’s Gospel has the lightness and brevity of Chekhov. What you get is much more than you see. Maybe its readers need something of Stanislavsky’s ‘method’ to get into the richness and import of what is said.
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.’
In the ‘Introduction’ of the Lectionary for Mass, the users’ guide provided by the Church, we are reminded that the proper disposition during the time of proclamation and reception of the word of God is meditation. There needs not only to be inteligible reading, but also silence to assist our deeper hearing and understanding.
- How was it at Mass yesterday?
For us to receive the word, we need a certain inner space, a place for encounter and exchange.
Sometimes the word itself directly provides that: we hear the word and immediately know it convicts us of sin, and that it offers the surest way to redemption. The word forces its way in and pushes other concerns to the side.
At other times we may know ourselves as it were resistant to the word, and know that we ourselves need, want, to work against our weaker nature in order that we might hear. So we take the initiative, or so it seems; and we try to ‘manage the liturgy’ well, (and provide time and space for meditative reading and listening at other times also). Space is provided for encounter; eating and drinking from the word of life; challenge and healing; love in action.
- When did the word of God last surprise you? Why?
- What ‘method’ for deeper encounter with the living word do you favour? Why?
In Mark’s Gospel we receive the fruits of life deeply lived and reflected on – tradition says we receive the memories of St Peter shaped and crafted by Mark. Mark invites us into a conversation with Peter, a sharing of his life of discipleship, cherished by the Master.
- Of what were you speaking as we walked on the road? And where has he led you now?
Symbol of St Mark, from decoration of St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. (c) 2015, Allen Morris