The Gospel for June 19th, 2016: “Peter’s Confession about Jesus,” “The First Prediction of the Passion,” and “The Conditions of Discipleship”
Luke 9: 18-24
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “but who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
One of my favorite college professors during my undergraduate years introduced me to the notion that there exists “multiple logics” for any set of facts. I remember the implications of that statement stopping me for a moment. Up to that point, I had developed an understanding of logic with a big L; in other words, “Logic” had this formal definition that I associated with the logic taught to me by my Geometry teacher as a path to truth that included inductive and deductive reasoning as a means of proving validity. As is often the case with school, I assumed there was one “right” logic. Furthermore, any understanding that was not right, was illogical.
Certainly age and experience with people, especially adults of diverse ages and backgrounds, opens young minds to the possibility of more than one reasonable viewpoint on a whole range of issues. It can be very frustrating for young people to work through the opposing arguments for an issue like the death penalty, where both sides make good points that appeal to a sense of reason. It also becomes clear that the willingness of most people to choose sides often has to do with the personal experiences they bring to the issue. Someone who has been wronged by others frequently in his or her life might be more prone to support the death penalty because they have learned to be sensitive to injustice and seek a means in the law to address severe injustices punitively. Others who have not developed this same sensitivity due to a life filled mainly with fair treatment might side against the death penalty due to the research that suggests it does not deter crime.
In this gospel, Jesus, in the direction of His questions, seems keenly aware of the multiple logics the witnesses to His ministry are employing. By this point in the Lukan gospel, He has done a lot of preaching and teaching, but He has also performed many miracles, including raising the son of the Widow of Nain from the dead (Luke 7: 11-17). The astonishing scope of Jesus’s public ministry would naturally lead to speculation about Him, since He is clearly not just any run-of-the-mill Rabbi. So who is He then? This is a logic problem that brings to light multiple, seemingly reasonable logics.
When He asks the disciples who people say He is, they say, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen’” (Luke 9:19). Jesus’s reticence to judge these answers allows space for the reader to consider their reasonableness. If a first century Jew is expecting a Messiah and believed that John the Baptist was him, then Jesus could be John risen from the dead. Of course, this conclusion ignores the fact that John denied that he was the Messiah and that one greater than he was coming. Certainly most Jews of Jesus’s time raised on the stories of the Old Testament prophets could see that Jesus’s penetrating teaching and ability to perform miracles showed an undeniable resemblance to those chosen to speak for God in the past. So we don’t see Jesus condemn the faulty reasoning of the people as these conclusions are revealed to Him by the apostles.
Still, these answers are insufficient. So he asks them who they say He is. Peter famously and correctly answers, “The Messiah of God” (20). Now Jesus’s curious reply, “He rebuked them and directed them not tell this anyone,” challenges my own sense of logic. It seems like He should be thrilled that they are understanding rightly and would want them to spread the word. Suffice to say there is a less obvious logic at work in Jesus’s reasoning that may have to do with the people’s misunderstanding of what the Messiah came to do. Perhaps they needed to slowly grasp this radical message of sacrificial love in the context of Jesus’s death and resurrection, because they were expecting a new priestly warrior-king like David.
My point is that Jesus understands how deeply challenging the “salvation logic” of the Messiah is to the people of His time and to the people of our time. In fact, it so radical that if we do not understand who He is in the context of scripture and the Church, we are apt to wrongly reduce Him to one spiritual teacher or prophet among many throughout history. Doing so is not illogical. On the contrary, it makes very good sense to integrate the more appealing aspects of His teaching into our worldview in combination with other lessons we have learned from the world. Again, multiple logics exist and are reasonable to use in many circumstances. However, other logics in this case are working from an incomplete set of facts, just as those the apostles spoke of were. There is only one salvation logic: Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God the Father. The Old Testament points to His coming and the New Testament verifies it. If we fail to accept this completely, we risk missing the very salvation we long for. Therefore it is imperative that we “experience” Jesus so as to not reduce who He is to the logic of moral relativism that allows us to twist His message to fit our own personal selfishness. It is not a coincidence that He follows up this conversation with the apostles about who He is with these conditions of discipleship:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (23-27).
This is so hard to do, to give our lives to Him and deny our own versions of life and happiness. But the advice from Jesus that allows a Christian to accomplish this is to “take up his cross daily and follow me.” Most days that cross may be as simple as accepting the full truth that Jesus is God and follow His simple mandate of loving others as He has loved us, one person at a time, one day at a time. In attempting to do this each day, we will learn to live our lives according to salvation logic and reject those logics from the world that are selfish (and sinful) in nature.