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“Who do you say I am?” asks Jesus. On the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). This is the famous question that Peter answers on behalf of the apostles: “You are the Christ of God.”
But you will find two other realities in this Gospel. First: Jesus deepens Peter’s answer by sharing four surprising facts about himself. Second, Jesus adds phrases that apply each of these four surprising facts to us. Let’s look at each in turn.
When Peter calls Jesus “the Christ of God,” he means that he is God’s anointed – a leader who will triumph over Israel’s foes. Surely, the Christ is not supposed to suffer greatly.
To this day we often make the mistake that Christianity is a way of worldly victory. We think prayer means getting what we want. We think being right with God means being right with the world. Jesus applies the way of suffering to us when he says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself.” Gains in this world are not our goal – victories in the next, even at the cost of this world, are.
If the Christ is not a political leader, he must be a religious leader, right? No, says Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus doesn’t reject religious leaders. They reject him. Elsewhere, he counsels following what they say, but not their example.
In our time, too,
Instead, said Jesus, a Christian “must take up his cross daily and follow me.” It is Jesus we must follow, even through rejection and persecution. Our faith is in God, not the other sinners who are on the same journey as us.
If it was possible for Peter to stomach that the Christ hero might suffer for others. But hearing that “he must be killed” probably seemed to be a bit much. A hero doesn’t die. He is the last man standing on the battlefield. A hero should be a David, not a Goliath.
Not so, says Jesus. He won’t just suffer for his people – a hero gives all, to the last measure, for his people.
He applies this to us when he says: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” As Pope Francis recently put it, “Following him means going out of ourselves and making our lives not something we ‘possess,’ but a gift to him and to others.”
The last surprising thing Jesus says about himself is that he must rise from the dead. This is surprising because it had never been done before. Dead things decay; they don’t rise. But the resurrection is really the key to all of the other facts about Jesus. His way of humility has power because it doesn’t end in self-destruction, but in making room for God’s victory.
Jesus applies this to us when he says: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” His way is not a ticket to misery, but to joy; it isn’t a way to destruction, but to freedom.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” says St. Paul. In the Second Reading “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s children, heirs according to the promise.”
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).