Witnesses to Faith
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them. "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."
As kids, my friends and I often quizzed each other about what we'd do if we had superpowers. How would we save the day? With all the superhero movies popular today, it seems the whole world wonders: What would a real savior look like?
That question figures prominently in our Gospel for this Sunday, Mark 8:27-35. In it, we encounter Jesus' famous question to his disciples (and us by extension): "Who do you say that I am?" St. Peter gives the correct answer:" You are the Christ." In other words: You're the anointed one of God, the Messiah here to set things right and save the day. Yet a few verses later, we find Peter trading rebukes with the Lord. Why?
Peter expects Jesus to be a savior much like we expect Superman to be a savior: by using strength, not weakness, to win the day. For those like Peter, messiahs bring victory through brute strength, pluck and ingenuity. They certainly don't get mocked by Pharisees and crucified by Romans.
However, God has a different plan, a different goal and a different means to the end. He intends not just to save us from politics, but from sin and death altogether. Our goal is not a better kingdom here and now, but redemption and eternal lie in heaven. And the means to get there is not by wielding some jewel of power or by fighting crime, but by embracing the cross.
It is true: God mightily and utterly vanquishes his enemies, but he does so in a completely unworldly way - by making them his friends. God's plan isn't merely to rip out the weeds of the world by brute strength, leaving everything sterilely clean but diminished. God can do more. He's not in the business of plucking out blind eyes, but rather restoring their sight. He doesn't amputate the withered hand, but rather brings it new health and life. The salvation of God comes via the cross by shouldering sin, weakness and death, embracing them with us, and by radically transforming them through sacrificial love.
The cross is a necessary mans for salvation as redemption as opposed to "avenging." When it comes to Christian discipleship, it's not a bug to be fixed or avoided, but a feature. There is no resurrection without the cross. Yet, how often do we shy away from the cross? How often we suggest to Jesus that he try a different, less personal and vulnerable way.
One area where this often comes home today is n the realm of evangelization, of sharing our faith. So often, we become convinced that if we only have the perfect program, the perfect words, we can win converts to Jesus without inconvenience or significant deviation from ordinary life. If we just post the right video on social media, we think, people will convert on their own. We imagine a cross-less victory of Christ, one that is intellectual, but doesn't ever descend to the particulars of people's lives and certainly asks little of us.
But in truth, as valuable as many online resources are, there is no substitute for personal interaction, witnessing directly to friends and neighbors. We must pray for then, walk with them and love them. This, of curse, means the cross, often in the form of awkward conversations, rejected invitations, or even our feeling ignorant or baffled from time to time. But our embrace of the cross will yield the redemptive work of God by his grace, if only we identify Christ as our savior and allow him to set the terms of our salvation. Where might Christ be inviting you to accept the cross by witnessing to your faith this week?