In the Gospel this morning we see the importance of Questions and Answers. Jesus first asks the question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The disciples answer, saying what they’ve heard people say, ‘some say John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets’ J. Jesus then asks the question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29 ESV) He asks that question to His disciples, and he asks it to us: Who do we say Jesus is? Just a man? A Holy Man? A spiritual teacher? Or something more? Are we happy to say that he’s a prophet, but just a man, to deny His Divinity, or can we say that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If we are happy to say this is this simply the end of the matter or is more asked of us? We have to say that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Nothing else will do! Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, Unitarians, and many other people will say many things about Jesus, but not that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would save people from their sins. He is truly God, and truly man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter confesses who Jesus is, but then Jesus goes on to teach His disciples ‘that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ (Mk 8:31 ESV) Because Jesus is who He is, the Messiah, the Son of God, then He has to die. In our first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah it is clearly foretold that the servant, that is Jesus, will be rejected and mistreated, and killed. Now Peter clearly doesn’t like it, he doesn’t understand how people could treat Jesus this way. Peter can only see things in human terms, and despite confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter doesn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He doesn’t fully understand what this means. It has to happen, so that Scripture might be fulfilled, and to show the world how much God loves us. God loves us SO MUCH that he gives his own Son to suffer and die, so that we might live.
So Jesus says to the assembled crowd, including His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk 8:34-5 ESV) We are Christians, through our common baptism, we follow Christ, we do what He says. So this applies to each and every one of us. We have to deny ourselves, take up OUR cross, and follow Jesus.
We have to deny ourselves — Now I know that I’m not good at saying, ‘No’. But I have to, I try to, and that’s the point. Denying ourselves means that we don’t put ourselves, or thoughts and desires at the centre of our lives — we put God there, where He belongs. God gives us GRACE to do this: through prayer, through reading the Bible, through the Sacraments of the Church, to help us.
We have to take up our Cross. The Cross is an instrument of torture and death, and it means pain and suffering. That is not pleasant or easy. We can understand why Peter says what he does, but the Christian life is not easy or without suffering. Mother Teresa, St Teresa of Calcutta once said that, “Suffering is a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss us and that he can show that he is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in his passion.” (My Life for the Poor, 77) When we suffer, we are close to Christ, we share in His Passion, and are conformed to His image. It is part of the mystery of God’s love, that it can transform us, but that transformation is not pleasant or easy, but in it we experience God’s LOVE.
We have to follow Jesus, we have to do what He says, which sounds easy in theory, but in practice is rather difficult. It is something which we do together, as a Church. Love and forgiveness sound easy, but they aren’t. They make demands on us, and force us to do things that we might not like to do. But we can support each other, and rely upon the grace of God to help us as we try to do this.
Our Faith is first and foremost about our relationship with Jesus Christ, someone who loves us so much that He dies for us. He takes away our sins, and restores our relationship with God and each other. And he gives himself here to us today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, in His Body and His Blood, to heal us, and restore us.
What Jesus does for us and for humanity is wonderful. It is an amazing demonstration of God’s love for us. He calls us to follow Him and bear our own Cross. To follow Christ in living out that same suffering love, to show the same compassion to the world, the same forgiveness. To follow Christ is to experience pain and anguish, heartache and loss, there is no magic wand to make things disappear. But rather, as we try to live out our faith, stumbling and failing as we go, we are drawn ever more into the mystery of God’s love and forgiveness. We become people of compassion, of reconciliation, who can see beyond petty human trifles, squabbles, and arguments, to the Kingdom of God where restored humanity can be enfolded for ever in the love of God.
Opposed to this are the ways of the world: the ways of money, and of power. Yet none of us can be saved by who we are or our possessions. Once we die they are of no use to us, and what then? All the wealth and power in the world cannot save our soul. They cannot make us truly happy in the way that following Christ, and entering into his suffering can. God’s love is shown most fully when Christ dies for love of us, when he bears the weight of human sin, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. This is how the Messiah reigns, not on a throne, but on a Cross. And when he comes at the end of time to judge the world, as he surely will, a judgement of which the Apostle James is all too well aware, let us not be among the adulterous and sinful generation of those who are ashamed of Christ, but let us instead be in Him, fed with Him, living His life, so that the world may come to believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.