Following is the text of the meditation by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa for the 24th Sunday of ordinary time, year B, September 12, 2021:
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, we could say that Jesus’ attention is turned to what those who are close to Him are thinking. Jesus Himself asks the disciples what the people think of Him (Mk 8:27); then He asks what they themselves think about Him (Mk 8:29); Peter is rebuked because he does not think like God (8:33); and then there follows this rebuke an exhortation by Jesus to leave one’s thinking about life to take on a completely new one.
At this point of the Gospel, there is a turning point. In all three Synoptics, the incident of Peter’s confession in Caesarea Philippi marks a fundamental transition: from there Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, where He will live His passion. Just at this point, for the first time, Jesus speaks of what awaits Him in the holy city, and the news must have sounded unintelligible and unacceptable in the ears of His disciples; and in the face of this prospect emerges all the resistance to entering this logic of love that implies the choice to offer their own lives.
We could say that, at this point of the Gospel, each one has formed an idea about Jesus, each has given Him an identity. From here, Jesus sets out on the way to Jerusalem, taking with Him also His disciples, who are called to make room not for the Jesus that they are “thinking of”, but for the Jesus Who will reveal Himself on the cross, Who goes beyond every possible human thought.
Precisely there is the first identity of Jesus, and it’s given by the people (Mk 8:28).
It is interesting because it is a “minimum” Jesus! The people actually identify Jesus with the Baptist, or with Elijah, or one of the prophets.
First of all, absent on the list of prophets is the name of Moses, to whom was attached the messianic expectation of Israel. Elijah was considered the one who would have prepared the way for the Messiah, just like John the Baptist: comparing Jesus to these two figures, it is evident that it is wished to keep Him within the channel of the precursors, nothing more than this. It doesn’t seem to come to mind to anyone that Jesus may be the Messiah.
Why? His works had strong messianic references: He healed the lepers, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, just like the great prophets described would have been the messianic era. But evidently in Jesus there was a jarring, dissonant note. The note that this salvation was not reserved solely for Israel, but was for all; the note that the banquet was also prepared for the pagans, and where the oppressed and the oppressors were called to take a seat together. The note that all this went beyond merit that was given by observance of laws and traditions, and had the new tone of gratis and for all.
So what the crowd does not succeed to do, to think of Jesus as the Messiah, Peter does, and it’s the second step of today’s Gospel. For Peter, who seems to express himself on behalf of all, Jesus is not only one of the many precursors, but is the Messiah Himself.
Here it’s interesting that, unlike Matthew, in Mark there is no appreciation for Peter’s answer: but Jesus orders them not to reveal to anyone the truth of His identity. We understand the reason why, immediately after: Jesus does not stop Peter’s affirmation, but declares what no one, neither the crowd nor the disciples, could imagine; or that His way of being the Messiah would be that of the Son of man, a messianic title that occurs fourteen times in Mark, and which is tied, almost always, to the Paschal Mystery and to the style of One who came “to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).
Faced with this announcement, Peter first shows he has not understood anything.
And here is the third step of today’s Gospel. Jesus, precisely, enlarges the discourse by delineating the identity of the disciple. As to say that they cannot understand who He is without themselves taking a leap in understanding Him: the two things are intimately linked.
I know the Lord only if I follow Him in His losing myself and in giving His life.
Every other perception, like that of the crowd, like that of Peter and the apostles, cannot be but partial and, therefore, false.
But if, like Him, and with Him, I enter the new logic of gift, then I can know Him as Lord Who gives life, and gives it by accepting that His life is lost for brothers and sisters.
This is the challenge of accepting in this last segment of the Lord’s life with His disciples, and this challenge is a path. And the last two encounters that Jesus makes before reaching Jerusalem will be symbolic of the two possible existences of this challenge: that of the rich man (Mk 10:17-22) and Bartimaeus, the blind man from Jericho (Mk 10:46-52). The first is not disposed to losing anything of what he has, and he remains outside not only of the knowledge of Jesus, but also outside of that fullness of life that the Lord had pointed out to him (Mk 10:21). The second, instead, is fully intent on the encounter, nothing can stop him and he even flings away his cloak to run to Jesus Who calls him. And as we have spoken today of identity, that of Jesus and His disciples, it’s interesting to note the first man does not have a name, unlike Bartimaeus, who not only has a name, but has also found his place in life, and has become the one “who follows Jesus along the way” (Mk 10:52): a perfect definition of the disciple of the Lord, on the way with Him to Jerusalem.