First the cross, then the glory

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Mark's gospel sets out to prove that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Mk. 1:1). He gives the answer through the Roman centurion who after seeing Jesus breathe His last said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" Mark accomplished this by showing the transition of Jesus from Son of Man to Son of God.

We are now halfway through Mark's gospel (Mk. 8:27-35). All this time, the 12 apostles were with Jesus. Together with the crowd, they heard Jesus teach. They also witnessed Him do miracles, including the healing of the deaf-mute (Mk. 7:31-37) and the man born blind (Mk. 8:22-26). The time had now come for Jesus to reveal to His apostles the mystery of His person to His disciples.

At first Jesus did this in an indirect way. As they were on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked them, "Who do people say that I am?" "People" here obviously referred to those outside the circle of His disciples. To this easy question (similar to what we see in survey questionnaires), they responded, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." For the "outsiders," Jesus was merely a forerunner of the Messiah as John the Baptist was. Well and good. The people did not have the same intimate knowledge of Jesus as His disciples had.

Then Jesus asked His disciples directly, "But you, who do you say that I am?" After a deafening silence, Peter answered for the group, "You are the Messiah." Though they answered correctly - they did not number Jesus merely among those pointing to the Messiah but was the Messiah Himself - Jesus in the words of Mark, "warned them not to tell anyone about him." Why? Because He knew that the Twelve still held on to the traditional understanding of messiah as portraying a military figure who would triumph over Israel's oppressors by the use of military might, a conqueror who would never be touched by suffering or defeat. In short, their answer was correct but their understanding of the title was wrong.

Thus Jesus 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." On hearing this, Peter "took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him." He just could not accept a suffering and dying - a defeated - Messiah. He wanted his messiah to be strong, invulnerable and victorious.

In response, Jesus rebuked Peter in front of His disciples, saying, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Jesus rejected Peter's idea and dream of a Messiah. For He came not only to suffer and die but also to be rejected - thus, totally defeated. But this defeat would be changed to victory at His resurrection on the third day. So before Peter could see Jesus as Son of God, He must first see Him as a Son of Man -- vulnerable to suffering and death as any man was as revealed in His passion and death.

Was Jesus able to change Peter's and the rest of His disciples' understanding of the messiah? No. For when Jesus was about to be arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, all of His disciples abandoned Him. Peter himself denied Him thrice: "I do not know the man." It was only after the Resurrection and the sending down of the Holy Spirit that Peter and the rest fully understand the depth of meaning of Jesus' revelation of His person.

After Peter's rebuke, Jesus summoned the crowd and in the presence of His disciples said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Jesus now laid down the condition of discipleship: self-denial, the taking up of the cross. If they were to become followers of Jesus, the first requisite was self-denial.

As He did then, Jesus now invites us to be His followers. He does not compel us to follow Him on the road to suffering, to take up His cross - that alone was His. But He invites us to take up our own crosses - everything that goes with our following of Jesus which in itself is not easy as it requires a lot not only of discipline but also and specially of faith on our part. And we do not even have to look far. They are just there - the sicknesses we and our loved ones have and are experiencing, the hurts and pains others inflict on us, the atmosphere of fear we live in due to the war going on, the uncertain future we are all facing due to the prevailing economic condition, and many more. And they become crosses when we unite them to the passion and death of Jesus.

Jesus was first Son of Man - suffered as a man, in fact, more than any man - before He became Son of God, raised by God from the dead and now living "at his right hand" in glory. That is the path He had taken. That is the path He wants us to take - first, the cross, then the glory.