The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 15, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Envision Christ's identity in your life

By identifying the role of Jesus, we can understand what is expected of us

September 17, Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

At the very center of his gospel, Mark presents Jesus asking a most important question. It happened while Jesus and his disciples were traveling through villages in the area of Caesarea Philippi.

The story begins with Jesus asking his disciples who people thought he was. It sounds like Jesus was asking about gossip. The reply is varied. They reported that some people thought he was John the Baptizer come back to life. We know that Herod thought that.

Others thought he might be Elijah who had been, in tradition, taken to heaven in a fiery chariot and who was suppose to return in Messianic times. Finally some thought he was a prophet and we know that, because of his teachings and the way in which he challenged people to return to the covenant. In fact Jesus compared himself to previous prophets when in his return to Nazareth and the negative response he got, quoted the proverb, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native land and among his own kin and in his own house."

Then he asked the question that has continued to be asked down through the centuries and demands a personal reply. "But who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked. Peter replied and said, "You are the Christ." This meant that Peter accepted Jesus as the Messiah or the anointed one who was expected to come in the final age. Yet we can tell from what followed that Peter didn't fully understand the kind of Messiah Jesus wanted to be.

We take it for granted that Jesus was the Messiah or in Greek, Christ. But we are looking back after the resurrection and the long centuries of the church's life. In fact, sometimes it is almost as if we use it as Jesus' last name. Yet it is a title with a rich heritage. It is a designation that indicates what that person does or will do. Like in Mark's gospel when the people of Nazareth called Jesus a carpenter.

Jesus tried to tell his disciples that he envisioned he would suffer and die. So his vision of being Messiah was not as a revolutionary leader against the Romans. He sought to bring the Kingdom of God into existence with justice and peace for all members of society. Peter could not comprehend this idea and Mark uses the strong words that Peter rebuked Christ for making such a statement. In turn Jesus rebuked Peter with the equally strong words, "Get behind me, Satan."

We probably find it hard to accept these words expressed to one we consider the first pope. In fact, Matthew drops the words and has Jesus praise Peter for his insight.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are not accepting what God wants. In fact he warns them that they themselves, if they wish to follow him, must be prepared to suffer. These words written to the Roman church after Nero's killing of Peter and Paul and other Christians indicate that Mark was telling his church that they must be willing to accept the persecution if they wanted to be disciples of Jesus.

The question that Jesus asked is also asked of us. We must be willing to express who Jesus is for us. We must try to envision Christ's identity and role in our own lives. Only then will we realize that much is also expected of us.

(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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