Friday of Week 25 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 9:18-22

After the incident concerning Herod, which, as we saw, is a pointer to things yet to happen, the disciples return from their mission. What follows is omitted from our readings. In fact, Jesus took them to a quiet place where they could rest and reflect on what they had been doing. However, they were pursued by the ever-hungry crowds and Jesus fed them with the Word of God, with his healing and finally, through his disciples (“You give them to eat”) with bread and fish. The story is another step in the Twelve’s involvement in the mission of Jesus and it leads into today’s reading.

We find Jesus praying alone. As we have already seen, it is something that Luke mentions a number of times about Jesus and especially before significant events in his public life. Some people might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question could reveal a rather limited idea of prayer, e.g. as something you do when you want to get something from God or when you are depressed or in trouble of some kind.

But prayer is ultimately getting in touch with God and that is something that Jesus would surely want to do a lot. Prayer is also a way of discovering just where God’s will enters one’s life and that is something that was always of supreme importance to Jesus. “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus, we are told, was not altogether alone. His disciples were with him. Were they praying too? Later, they will ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

All of this is Luke’s introduction to a high point in all the Synoptics: the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. From the other Synoptics we know that it took place at Caesarea Philippi, a mixed Jewish-Gentile region outside Herod’s territory.

“Whom do people say I am?” Jesus asks them. They give various answers: John the Baptist (resurrected) or Elijah, expected to return to announce the imminent coming of the Messiah, or some other of the earlier great prophets.

But then he asks, “Who do you say I am?” Peter, answering for all of them, replies simply: “The Christ of God.” “Christ” is not a name but a title. It comes from the Greek word for Christ (Christos) and is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. The anointing indicates someone who is king and, in this case, the One who is anointed the Saviour King of Israel.

In short, Peter is saying that the man standing before him is the long-awaited Saviour of the Jewish people. It is a dramatic development in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.

His next words at first sight seem unexpected and contradictory. He strictly orders his disciples not to say anything of this to anyone. Surely they should be doing the exact opposite? But the people are not yet ready for this revelation. They have a very limited and preconceived idea of what the coming of the Messiah will mean. They see him in very political terms as a kind of national liberator who will drive out and destroy the Romans and all enemies of the Jewish people and restore the past glories of Israel.

Even after the Resurrection Luke has Jesus’ own disciples them asking him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Their ideas, even at this late date, are no different from the ordinary people’s. At this point in the Gospel, they must be secretly proud that they, of all people, are the first to be privileged with this information.

If that was the case, they were very quickly to be disillusioned. Almost immediately Jesus goes on to say that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed and raised on the third day”.

This is the first time in Luke that Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”. It occurs eighty-one times in the four gospels and is only used by Jesus of himself. In the book of Daniel (7:13-14) we see the ‘Son of Man’ pictured as a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and sovereign power. Jesus’ use of the title in a Messianic sense is made clear by its close proximity to Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the ‘Christ’.

We know from Matthew and Mark that the disciples – in particular Peter – were dumbfounded when they heard Jesus’ words and wanted to reject them entirely. It was totally against all their expectations of the Messiah, apart from the fact that they could not bear to have those things happen to their Master.

To them, it simply did not make any sense. First, Jesus as Messiah was going to be rejected and handed over by the leaders of their own people. Secondly, he was going to go through a terrible and humiliating death. His “being raised” on the third day – whatever that meant – did little to alleviate their confusion.

But, as Mark indicates, this was a further step in their relationship with Jesus. They now recognised him as the Messiah but now they had to learn just what kind of Messiah he was going to be and how he was going to liberate not only his own people but people all over the world.

We, too, of course, have to keep going through the same process. We, too, have to deepen our understanding of the true identity of Jesus. We have to be able to understand how the suffering and dying Messiah is not only the way he needed to go to reconcile us with God, but that we too, have to be ready to go the same way. We have to learn to see the redemptive and healing power in the pains, sufferings, disappointments and failures of our lives.

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