Mark 8:27-35
Ponder the Depths of God's Love
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"  They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets."  And he asked them.  "But who do you say that I am?"  Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ."  Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  He spoke this openly.  Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."

As I get older, I appreciate more and more the countless sacrifices my parents made for me and my three sisters.  There were monetary sacrifices required to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, send us to Catholic schools and to college, and pay for sports fees and broken windows.  There were sacrifices of time spent doing laundry, carting us to sporting events, assisting with school projects and accomplishing home-improvement projects.  There were unspoken sacrifices like not graduating from college, not taking up hobbies and putting off travel plans in order to provide for the four of us.  I get a little overwhelmed sometimes as I think of all that they lovingly surrendered for the sake of our family.  Words can’t properly express how much they loved us and sacrificed for us.

As we journey through life as Christians, a similar sentiment should well up in our hearts of deep gratitude and unworthiness as we ponder the sacrificial love and marvelous deeds of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was present to the Father when the world in all its beauty was fashioned from absolutely nothing except His power, wisdom and love.  Jesus was at the Father’s side when each of us was formed in His mind and created in His image and likeness in our mother’s womb.  Jesus leapt down from heaven to dwell among us because we were lost and had gone astray.  Jesus patiently put up with His disciples and Twelve Apostles, even when they remained lost, confused and selfish.

However, the great challenge for each Christian is to find a way to ponder in prayer and appreciate in faith what Christ did for us at the end of His earthly journey.  On the one hand, we can’t fully grasp everything that Jesus sacrificed for us because His wisdom and love are infinite.  On the other hand, we owe it to Him, as recipients of so much love, to give it the old college try.  As human beings we have the capacity to see great goodness, to know gratitude and to express that gratitude in some appropriate fashion to the One who has been immeasurably good to us.

As always, the Scriptures are a great help in this project.  So many events in the Old Testament herald and foreshadow what Christ did for us.  So many prophets spoke in surprisingly clear terms about the events that would define Jesus’ saving mission.

Today, we have a terrific example of the latter when we hear the prophet Isaiah speak in an eerily direct way about Jesus’ passion. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”  God Himself, in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, was scourged, buffeted, spat upon and mocked for us and for our salvation.  Again, words seem inadequate to the task of expressing the depth of love and sacrifice present in those actions.

Peter demonstrates the fact that it is not easy to believe in these saving mysteries.  Jesus takes the time to explain to the disciples during His public ministry that He will be handed over, suffer profoundly, be put to death and rise on the third day.  Peter can’t see the wisdom of this plan at first and rebukes Jesus for such ideas.  Jesus, in turn, uses some harsh language (“get behind me, Satan”) to chastise Peter for failing to be open to God’s plan, to what must happen for our salvation, to the depths of Jesus’ love.  Jesus says to Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

I am sure that Peter loves Jesus and does not want to hear that the Lord will have to suffer such an agony.  I imagine that Peter also was thinking that if Jesus must undergo such trials, so must His disciples.  There were plenty of human reasons at the moment to object to Jesus’ revelation.

In the end, Jesus was abandoned by His disciples, put through a false trial, scourged at the pillar, mocked and spat upon, and nailed to a tree.  He also rose from the dead on the third day in fulfillment of the Scriptures.  Soon thereafter, He would send the Holy Spirit upon the earth.  These acts make up the greatest act of love the world has ever known.

How do we respond?  First, with gratitude … profound gratitude. While we have a sense that we can’t possibly thank Him enough for what He has done, we find refuge in knowing that if we truly ponder the meaning of these events and groan inwardly with grateful love, it will be pleasing to Him.  Then we strive, with His grace, to live our lives in a similar way to His.  This is the great project of being a Christian.

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