MARK 8:17-33

We here at this liturgy today confront a challenge the Gospel we have just heard presents us with.  There are two issues raised in Saint Mark's text that demand our response.  Jesus himself asks a question of his followers that is posed no less to us today than it was set before his disciples.   "Who do you say that I am?" Peter was ready with a prompt answer that he was eager to supply:  "You are the Christ."    Saint Matthew's account of this same exchange adds a phrase that supplies an answer to a further question that arises from Peter's words, namely: "What is the nature of this Christ?"   As if anticipating this query, Matthew's detailed account cites Peter as giving a reply that adds a most significant phrase.  It reads this way: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."(Mt 6:16).

This witness given by Peter has been interpreted in more than one way, for a further issue is implied: in what sense is Jesus the Son of God?  We here, of course, take it to mean that the Lord Jesus is so engendered by the God the Father as to share the same nature as He and so to be substantially equal in dignity to his Father.  And yet he is not a distinct God in such a way that there are two Gods.  There was required a couple of centuries of reflection by some of the best minds before a satisfactory formula could be devised that accommodates such a unique relationship as is implied here.  The word "Trinity" does not occur anywhere in the Bible or during the apostolic age.  Yet the full belief is witnessed to implicitly under other verbal formulas.   We are invited by the words of Peter to make this belief our own in such a way as to assimilate its significance as personally as prayerful reflection can manage.   This task is challenging to our prayer for the content of the truth witnessed to in our gospel accounts is ineffable.  Words can only suggest a reality beyond expression.  Prayer made in trusting faith penetrates to the reality of God who conveys some share in Himself by means of words.

The second point Jesus sets before us in Mark's text immediately follows the story of Saint Peter's confession of the Lord as the Christ sent by the Father.   What Jesus adds at this juncture represents an abrupt and alarming change of tone.  Peter himself found it so distressing that he was moved to take our Lord aside and rebuke him, presuming that he knew God's ways better than to conceive of the Christ as being destined to suffer rejection and death.  His reaction is readily understandable, caused by his strong affection for his master.  Jesus in turn rebukes Peter for being too human.  Our Lord's words are meant for each of us as well as for his apostle: "Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Thus our liturgy this evening confronts us with the same disconcerting reality that Peter found overpowering and unacceptable in its stark demand that we accept the loss of what we love most in this world.  The person whom we receive into our hearts as well as into our bodies in this Eucharist teaches us that the price of our union with him is a heavy one.  For only through sharing in his suffering and death, whatever form they assume for us, can we be united with him in his glory as we accept this word from our Lord as we offer his sacrifice at our altar this evening.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger