The National Catholic Review
As noted in Mark24, Mark has brought his reader to the point where he can put the question, "Who do you say I am?" The first 8 chapters of the Gospel, its sayings and deeds, are the basis for any judgment by Jesus’ friends, enemies and followers. We never forget that Mark’s reader in Rome already is Christian; he is baptized and for years has believed that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God. Yet, Mark thinks his reader can and must come to a deeper appreciation of Jesus than he has up now; Mark will bring him to this deeper understanding at least in part now, by virtue of Jesus’ question about himself. No doubt, ’prophet’ is a reasonable conjecture about the identity of Jesus; Mark’s first 8 chapters witness to Jesus as one who ’speaks God’s message of good news’. But prophet is insufficient, as Peter shows. Peter says Jesus is Messiah. For Peter, for many Jews, even though God had allowed Israel’s two terrible exiles, one under the Assyrians (721 BC) and one under the Babylonians (587 BC), these exiles were punishment, but not rejection by God. God would, some day, raise up a king (contrary to most Jewish kings) of such power, wisdom and holiness that the benefits promised to Israel from its loving God would be delivered. This powerful, wise and holy person – the final king of Israel – was called Messiah (in Greek, Christ). ’Messiah’ is drawn from the action of anointing with oil which was the formal gesture by which a person became king. For Peter, Jesus has shown himself to be the wise, powerful and holy person to fulfill the definition of Messiah of Israel; from Jesus would come the assurance of the wonderful blessings of God, called, properly, the messianic benefits. To Peter’s astounding definition of Jesus, Jesus himself says nothing – neither yes nor no. Most unexpectedly what Jesus does is say that, under title of Son of Man (an image in Daniel of a person who is glorified after suffering), he will suffer greatly and be rejected by the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish body) and be killed, and then raised on the third day. Peter’s response to this is ’No!’. Suffering/resurrection plays no part in Peter’s understanding of who is a Messiah; the Messiah will not suffer, be rejected and killed. Why not? because Messiah does not mean this. In response, Jesus calls Peter ’Satan’, a person who tries to deter Jesus from obedience to the will of God. Suddenly we learn that suffering and murder are integral to the meaning of Messiah, as integral as are power, wisdom and holiness. Contrary as these two aspects seem to be, one cannot be a Christian of deep understanding - a deep understanding so as not to deny Jesus under persecution - unless one has learned to define the Messiah in this fuller way. Messiah is a powerful, wise and holy person who will, at the end of his life, appear as powerless, foolish and criminal; Peter, and all Christians, must learn who their leader is, and, if they do not, they will crumble under their persecutors. Most scholars today conclude that no follower of Jesus understood him profoundly before his resurrection; it was only after that event that people began to understand Jesus truly. Thus, even though Peter reached a meaning of Jesus beyond others in the time of Jesus’ public life, he never understood how ’it all fitted together’ until after it was all over. Recall now that the first 8 chapters reveal power, and wisdom and holiness, and that after Peter’s confession do we begin to hear about that darker side of the Messiah; indeed, Jesus will now three times speak of his terrible death, a factor never mentioned in the first 8 chapters. Enemies he had, but now we turn to that part of the story which underscores the most unexpected characteristics of the Messiah, the true Messiah. John Kilgallen, S.J.