We come now to a crucial moment in Mark’s narrative as we hear the first of three predictions of Jesus’ passion and death. From the beginning of the gospel there have been many expressions of wonder and amazement at what Jesus has done and these have often been accompanied by the question: ‘Who can this be?’ Jesus, however, has attempted to keep a lid on the question of his identity, as though he wanted it kept a secret. Now in these important verses we learn why. Jesus is interested above all in the response of faith and that is why he asks the disciples: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answers, acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah. This is a Hebrew word and simply means the anointed one, but in the minds of the Jews of first-century Palestine it means much more. Peter is saying that Jesus is the long awaited fulfilment of the scriptures, the one to set his people free from foreign domination and who would usher in a great period of restoration and renewal. Jesus accepts the title but immediately begins the task of trying to bring his disciples to understand that he is not the type of Messiah they expect. Quite the opposite in fact, for the kingdom he proclaims will meet with fierce opposition and he will suffer the ultimate penalty for his faithfulness to it. What’s more is that he expects his disciples to walk the same path.
As Christians we pray daily using the words Jesus taught us: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ When we do this we are saying that we want the world to be the way God wants it. In other words a place of peace and justice where no-one suffers through poverty, war or oppression. If this is what we want then we must live in a way which helps to bring this about, we must be committed to change. Such a choice might leave us like the Servant in the first reading facing abuse and insults from those who would prefer to leave things as they are. This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel: taking up our cross to follow him does not mean we are to go looking for suffering; rather it means accepting that choosing the way of God’s kingdom will cost us. In short, faith without works is dead!