Thursday of Week 6 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 8:27-33

We now come to a high point in Mark’s gospel which the texts of previous days have been leading up to.  Since the beginning of this gospel the question has been continually asked: “Who is Jesus?”  Today we get the answer.  The blind and deaf disciples show that they are beginning to see more clearly.

So Jesus himself puts the question that has been underlying all that has gone before: “Who do people say I am?”  The disciples give a number of answers reflecting the speculations of the people.  These include:

  • John the Baptist come to life again
  • Elijah, who was expected to return to earth just before the arrival of the Messiah
  • One of the other prophets

Then Jesus asks his disciples what they believe.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter speaks up in the name of all: “You are the Christ.”

This is indeed a dramatic moment.  Jesus is not just an ordinary rabbi, not just a prophet. He is the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel. This is a tremendous breakthrough for the disciples.  However, they are told to keep this to themselves for the time being.  There were many expectations about the Messiah and Jesus did not want to be identified with them.

But it is not the end of the story.  There is a sudden and unexpected twist for which they were not at all prepared.  Jesus immediately begins to tell them what is going to happen to him in the days ahead: that he will suffer grievously, be rejected by the religious leaders of his own people, be put to death and – perhaps most surprising of all – after three days rise again.  And there was no mistaking his meaning for “he said all this quite openly”.  ‘Religious leaders’ here refers to the Sanhedrin, the 71-member ruling council of the Jews consisting of elders, the chief priests and the scribes.  Under Roman rule, it had authority in religious matters.

For the first time in this gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”.  He will do this many more times.  The title was first used in the book of Daniel (7:13-14) as a symbol of “the saints of the Most High”, referring to those faithful Israelites who receive the everlasting kingdom from the “Ancient One” (God). 

In the apocryphal books of 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, the title does not refer to a group but to a unique figure of extraordinary spiritual endowments – who will be revealed as the one through whom the everlasting kingdom decreed by God will be established.  Of itself, this expression means simply “a human being”, or, indefinitely, “someone”, and there are evidences of this use in pre-Christian times. Its use in the New Testament is probably due to Jesus’ speaking of himself in that way, “a human being”, and the later Church’s taking this in the sense of the Jewish apocrypha and applying it to him with that meaning.

It is not difficult to imagine how the disciples must have been profoundly shocked, and could not believe their ears at what Jesus was telling them.  Peter, their impetuous leader, immediately begins to protest.  They have just pronounced Jesus to be the long-awaited leader of the Jewish people, and now he says he is going to be rejected and executed by their very own leaders.  It made absolutely no sense whatever.  Jesus turns round, looks at his disciples and scolds Peter with the terrible words, “Get behind me, Satan!  Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”

This is what the gradual opening of the eyes of the blind man in yesterday’s story indicated.  They had reached the stage where they had made the exciting discovery that their Master was none other than the long-awaited Messiah.  They had answered the first question of Mark’s gospel: Who is Jesus? But they were still immersed in all the traditional expectations that had grown up around the coming of the Messiah, as the victorious and triumphing king who would put all Israel’s enemies to flight.

But they would have to unlearn all this. The rest of Mark will answer the second question: What kind of Messiah is Jesus? or What does it mean for Jesus to be Messiah?

And a further question follows from that: What will all that mean for the disciples – and for us?  We will see some answers to that tomorrow.

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