No preacher worth his or her salt has avoided this challenging question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:27-38). Jesus addresses the question to his disciples but there are few of us who would not also hear this question addressed directly to us. Who do we say Jesus is? What is our creed about Jesus?
Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.” And by that he probably meant more than one sent by God, more than one anointed by God. Like others of his day, Peter’s deep hope was that God would send a political or military saviour, one who would lead Israel back to freedom. Well if that’s what the disciples expected Jesus would have to set things right. That is not the kind of Messiah Jesus turned out to be, nor was it the kind of Messiah he was sent to be.
So Jesus teaches that the road ahead for the Messiah would be different from their expectations, it would be a path of suffering and death. Not even Peter’s desire to protect his friend and master would deter Jesus from the path that lay ahead. Jesus further pointed out to the disciples and the larger crowd that had gathered, that following him meant a complete reversal of all they had held dear.
How easy it is for us to become stuck in a way of life that leaves us wanting. Jesus calls us out of the mire and invites us to follow him and be willing to turn from our old ways to something that is life-giving; life-giving for ourselves and those around us. Jesus offers us the mercy, love and forgiveness of God; an offer that invites us deeper and deeper into God’s pocket.
Archbishop Robert Seaborn of Newfoundland (65-80) told me a story about visiting his parishes by boat. Once he was caught in a storm that made him fear for his life. When the vessel turned towards the harbour after making it past the headland the captain turned to the Archbishop and said, “See, now you are as safe as if you were in God’s pocket.”
That is what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel, inviting us from what we think is safe to something that is safer; from life to more life.