The episode of Caesarea Philippi occupies a central place in Mark’s Gospel. After some time living with him, Jesus asks his disciples a decisive question: «Who do you say I am?». Answering for them all, Peter says without hesitation: «You are the Christ». Finally it seems that everything is clear. Jesus is the Messiah sent by God, and the disciples follow him in order to collaborate with him.
But Jesus know that it’s not so. There’s still something very important they need to learn. It’s easy to confess Jesus with words, but they still don’t know what it means to follow him up close, sharing in his project and his destiny. Mark says that Jesus “began to teach them” that he must suffer much. It’s not just one more teaching, but something fundamental that the disciples have to go about assimilating little by little.
Right from the start he speaks «quite openly». He doesn’t want to hide anything. They need to know that suffering will always accompany them in their task of opening up pathways to God’s reign. At the end, he will be condemned by the religious leaders and he will die, violently executed. Only when he rises will it be seen that God is with him.
Peter rebels against what he’s hearing. His reaction is unbelievable. He takes Jesus aside in order to «rebuke him». He had been the first to confess him as Messiah. Now he’s the first to reject him. He wants to make Jesus see that what he’s saying is absurd. He’s not ready for Jesus to follow that path. Jesus should change that way of thinking.
Jesus reacts with uncharacteristic harshness. He immediately sees in Peter the face of Satan, the tempter of the desert who seeks to separate him from God’s will. He turns toward the disciples and literally «scolds» Peter with these words: «Get behind me, Satan» – go back to your position of disciple. Stop tempting me. «You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do».
Later he calls the people and his disciples so that they listen well to his words. He repeats them on more than one occasion. They should never forget them. «If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me».
To follow Jesus isn’t obligatory. It’s a free decision of each person. But we need to take Jesus seriously. It’s not enough to make easy confessions. If we want to follow him in his passionate task of making a more human, dignified and happy world, we need to be ready for two things. First, renounce projects or plans that work against God’s reign. Second, accept the sufferings that can come our way because we follow Jesus and identify ourselves with his cause.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf