Today’s Gospel passage from Mark declares that discipleship is integrally connected to true knowledge of who Jesus is. This underscores the importance for each one of us to respond to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
We cannot just blurt out or parrot what Peter confessed without understanding, accepting and living its meaning. We have to look deep into our hearts to find our response based on our lived experiences. What Peter said did not just come instantly out of the blue. It was revealed and nurtured by God through the many encounters with Jesus in his words and deeds, and by being at the feet of the Master 24 hours a day, seven days a week until it was crystallized on that moment.
It goes without saying that knowledge and recognition of Jesus as the Christ is a good start but it is not enough. Stopping and staying there reduces human response to Jesus’ revelation of himself to mere mental or intellectual pursuit where the core of one’s being is left unaffected. Jesus must be lived in our hearts, so that our whole being may be informed by his true identity. It means experiencing Jesus in all facets of our daily routine, including our pains and sufferings.
When Jesus revealed to the disciples his eventual suffering, rejection and death as well as his resurrection after three days, he was taking them to a deeper understanding of his identity, already acknowledged and confessed by Peter. He was, in effect, trying to tell them that he is the Christ, God’s love incarnate, totally given for our sake that no suffering or threat to his life could derail or block. His passion, death and resurrection is the peak of his total self-giving, revealing how much God loves us. Peter, however, missed the point just as we do when we fail to acknowledge pain as a gift.
We cannot see and accept the point of suffering and pain of carrying our own little crosses, and following Jesus if our knowledge or recognition of him is superficial. All the stuff that we learn in catechism, and from the homilies, talks and books about Jesus has to come alive in us, so that they do not just remain as part of the body of knowledge that we can summon and blurt out when we are tasked to explain our faith. They have to be internalized and personalized, so that they are no longer extraneous to who we are as human beings. Otherwise, we will frequently find ourselves questioning God why he allows evil to happen in this world, crying and complaining bitterly, if not altogether deciding to negate the very existence of God in the apparent bleakness, hopelessness and aimlessness of life.
In Jesus, only in Jesus, can we see meaning in life, in general, and in horrid human conditions, in particular. The way to discipleship takes us there and instructs us that the difficulties of life can teach us to live fully and well just as Jesus did even when he was confronted by suffering and death. All our crosses are gifts that allow us to participate in the life of Christ. When we are able to live and let live like him in the darkness of human frailty and sinfulness, then what is there to stop us from being more fully alive in the light.
We have many shining examples from the lives of ordinary Christians who were able to become true disciples. St.Therese of the Child Jesus saw and lived Jesus in the simplicity of life in the Carmelite monastery, understanding and practicing the meaning of her faith even in what may be so trivial as sweeping the floor or smiling at a disagreeable sister. St. John Eudes called his persecutors his benefactors as he consciously lived and preached the life of Jesus even in times of uncertainties and at the lowest ebb of his life. St. Mary Euphrasia endured the ire of her sisters when she pursued a new way of governance in her congregation that she was branded as overly ambitious. St. Jeanne Jugan accepted her fate when she was “sidelined” and her role in the congregation she founded was diminished, but she recognized God’s hand that allowed her to form and influence many young novices.
This is also happening to all of us, saints-in-the-making! We all know of OFWs who endure the loneliness of working abroad and the pain of separation from their families so that they could provide for their children. More common are fathers and mothers taking long hours of work, and doing what they can to make ends meet and take care of the kids without complaining. Sometimes, it is the children who have to bear the cross of the family and bear witness to their parents that it is possible to choose discipleship by simply choosing to be good children and students against all odds. Terminally ill patients face pains and sufferings of life and the fear life after life with heroic convictions. Humble, ordinary folks suffer all the hardship of making a living and yet generously giving a good part of what they earn to help others. The list goes on and on.
It only means that this discipleship, a continuous process of knowing, loving and living Jesus not only in good times but more especially in bad times, is within the reach of all. It does happen in our lives through a conscious decision of seeing, living, and sharing Jesus in our lives!
Father, you have revealed and sent to us your Son to heal, redeem and call us into the path of discipleship. May the merits of his total gift of himself win for us the grace to carry our cross and follow him in a life that proclaims that Jesus is the Christ. Amen.