During the time of Jesus, the people were confused. They had diverse ideas about Him. They regarded Jesus as a political Messiah, a teacher, a healer, wonderworker, prophet, king, and many others. In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus asked his disciples a sort of a survey question: “Who do people say that I am?” He was not really interested in their answer. He was just testing them whether they were affected by the confusing ideas of people about Him. His most important question, however, followed the first: “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter gave the correct answer: “You are the Messiah.” But Jesus did two surprising things: first, “He warned them not to tell anyone about him” and second, he called Peter “Satan.” The name Satan means adversary. Although Peter gave the correct answer, this truth about the identity of Jesus was not yet to be made known to the people. Doing so prematurely would jeopardize his mission. The people would be very excited and agitated and this could threaten the Roman authorities. And secondly, the salvation that Jesus was to bring about was by way of the cross, and the people would not be able to understand and take it. So, his identity had to remain as the “Messianic Secret.”
Jesus also surprised everybody by rebuking Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” This was because, when Jesus was talking about his forthcoming sufferings and death on the cross, Peter objected and tried to dissuade him: “No! There must be some other way, not the cross! The cross is for criminals and evil-doers, not for you!” These words of Peter must have tempted Jesus. So, he quickly rebuked Peter with the harshest words ever: “Get behind me, Satan!” Underlying these two surprising actions of Jesus is the reality of the cross. He had to keep his identity hidden from the people because of the cross he was about to carry. And he called Peter “Satan” because he was trying to prevent him from taking up the cross, and thereby disobey his heavenly Father’s will.
In order not to be confused, there is one thing, which will definitely identify the true Jesus: it is the cross. The true Jesus always has the cross. There is no cross- less Jesus. That is why Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. He is the suffering servant of Yahweh that the prophet Isaiah talks about in the first reading. The cross has been the symbol of man’s cruelty. It has been used as the instrument of torture and death to punish criminals and enemies of the state. But Jesus was no criminal. He has no sin. He cannot be punished. Yet he was nailed to the cross. He voluntarily suffered and offered up his life on the cross as sacrifice to atone for man’s sins and offenses against God. From that time on, the cross became the most perfect symbol of self-sacrifice, love and salvation. Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Our journey as Christians is an upward ascent to perfection and holiness. Jesus said: “Be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.” It is never easy. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of rendering good works and loving service to those in need as the apostle James said in the second reading. It is the way of forgiveness and love, even love of our enemies. It is the way of self- denial in the midst of temptations to comfort and extravagance. It is never easy. So, if we are looking for an easy life, if we are looking for comfort and pleasure, beware! A quotation says: “If the going gets so easy, be careful! You may be going downhill!”
This Tuesday, the 14th of September, we will celebrate the feast of the Exaltation or the Triumph of the Cross. It seeks to remind us that we must remain loyal to Jesus and to follow him no matter what lies ahead. The suffering servant in the book of the prophet Isaiah said these words: “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame”. “Setting one’s face like flint” means to look straightforward; to focus oneself towards one direction, never turning one’s head to other distractions.
This is precisely what the lord wants us to do.
He walks ahead of us with the cross on his shoulders.
Let us follow him, with our faces set like flint, knowing that he will lead us to victory and eternal glory.