The first scripture for today, taken from Isaiah, is the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Our thoughts immediately leap to the passion of Jesus. The Gospel passage, though directing our attention to the passion, doesn’t linger there. An introduction and conclusion take the prediction and ground it in history and in our hearts.
In the introduction, we see Jesus and his disciples setting out for Caesarea Philippi. This site is most important. Its ancient name was Banias. In the rugged hillside there was a deep cavern that was revered as the birthplace of the Greek nature god, Pan. Nearby, there was a cave from which flowed a spring that was considered to be the source of the Jordan River. Finally, on the top of the hill stood a gleaming temple covered in white marble dedicated to the emperor god, Caesar.
At this sacred site, revered by Greeks, Romans and Jews, Jesus asked the most important question that could be asked. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples threw out a few conjectures, John the Baptist, Elijah, other prophets. Jesus rephrased the question. “Who do you say that I am?” The great revelation came from the lips of Peter. “You are the Christ.”
What Jesus did next shocked everyone. He predicted his passion. The Christ, the Messiah, won’t be a conquering hero. He’ll be the suffering servant. He’ll suffer physically. He’ll be rejected and killed. He’ll rise from the dead after three days. Peter immediately took Jesus aside and began rebuking him for this prediction. Jesus response to Peter was clear. “You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.” Jesus then spelt out what it will mean to follow him – to be his disciple. Deny your self! Take up your cross! Loose your life!
St. Paul reminded the Philippians of this teaching when he told them that Jesus “emptied himself.” Later, in a letter to his co-worker Timothy, he defined the depth of his own discipleship by saying that he was “being poured out as a libation.” Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, interpreted Paul’s comments as invitations to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by giving ourselves completely to the service of God. This is the nuclear reactor powering all discipleship. This is what Fr. Eymard called the gift of self.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with the fire of your love. Increase my faith in Jesus, my Lord and redeemer.
Guide me, and strengthen me, so that I may work with you to renew the face of the earth. Amen.