By Nathan Maurer
In this past weekend's Gospel from Mark, we hear that monumental question from the mouth of Christ: “Who do you say that I am?” This query should cause us to examine our faith where it matters. We may think about Jesus, acknowledge him in some way, but how do we really relate to him? Is he a nice story to tell our children, an ancient myth, a friend, or our Lord? As if this question wasn’t enough for one day, a second gut-punch comes in Jesus’ subsequent proclamation: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”. These two Gospel passages, one right after the other, paint a picture of what it means to really embrace the Christian faith with our whole lives.
When the Apostles hear Jesus ask, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter takes the lead and answers: “You are the Christ”. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus responds to this by encouraging Peter’s faith in turn: “Blessed are you… for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my heavenly Father”. Peter must have felt on top of the world in this moment. In fact, it is during this same exchange that Jesus promises to give Peter the keys to the kingdom, indicating that he will be the first Pope. But just when Peter thinks he has passed the ultimate test and can coast from now on, he makes a critical mistake. Jesus begins to describe his upcoming suffering and death, and Peter, perhaps out of fear and confusion, rebukes him. No doubt suffering and death was not in Peter’s plan for the victorious coming of the Kingdom of God! And Jesus, so soon after affirming Peter’s profession of faith, shows the lead apostle that he still has a long way to go: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.
What does this tell us about our own faith? Most of all, simply paying “lip-service” to Jesus is not enough. We all know people, including at times ourselves, who proclaim to be Christian but act like anything but. Being Catholic is not just about saying nice prayers and going to mass on Sunday, only to live our lives exactly like everyone else in our modern, secularized world. If we believe that Jesus is truly God and has come to save us from our sins, it is not enough to say it. We must also ACT like it. This means taking up our little crosses each day by radically loving our children, our spouse, our parents, and the homeless person on the street. It means confessing our sins and taking concrete steps to avoid repeating them. It means asking Jesus daily in prayer what he is asking us to DO, not relegating him to a “box” and only talking to him when we need or want something. Bottom line: our faith calls us to action, to change our lives, to follow and imitate Christ on a daily basis. St. Peter learned his lesson, eventually going on to preach the Gospel and be crucified for it, just like his friend and Lord. May we also have the courage to not only proclaim who Jesus is with our words, but with our lives and actions.