To our modern world and our present culture, the messages of today’s Gospel are both the “stumbling block” and the “foolishness” (cf 1 Cor 1:23). Why?
Let us look at the first stumbling block, a question from Jesus: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” What does the world (the crowds) today say about Jesus? Even among those who accept the historicity of Jesus, various labels are applied to Him but unlike the crowds in Jesus’ time, these labels do not correspond to their expectations about Jesus, rather, they are opinions about who Jesus was. These opinions, largely influenced and shaped by secularism, have made Jesus’ identity more fictitious than factual.
Now let us take a look at the second one: “Who do you say that I am?” What do the disciples (Christians) say about Jesus today? Apart from the knowledge acquired in catechesis or bible study class and the standard answers to the titles of Jesus, what do we know about Him in person? Who is He to me, to us, to every one of His disciples throughout history? Our answers will be, according to St John Paul II, “the response of the rational and free human person to the word of the living God…….a kind of examination on the maturity of the faith.” (World Youth Day, Aug 19th, 2000).
Let us move on to the third message, a kind of advice or rather, an invitation: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” What a strange way of inviting His followers! By saying “yes” to Him, we have to say “no” to ourselves and as if it is not foolish enough, we have to take up the cross daily. How many of us would accept this kind of invitation which so contradicts our current philosophy of self-worth and self-reliance. Is it not true that human natural instinct is to seek comfort and pleasure? Why then do we have to carry the cross and make life miserable?
But the most foolish message seems to be this one: “He who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will save it.” What does this “saving” and “losing” mean? Why does it have to be so serious as to necessitate the losing of one’s life? This is not what we learn. Our world educates us to win, to gain, to strive for the top in whatever we do. Individualism and rationalism, not to exclude the much celebrated “I” concept, teach us to say yes “for my sake” when it means for me myself, not for Jesus or others. How come Jesus is so hard and harsh, making life so difficult for us? Why cannot we be like others, just live a good life by being nice and complacent?
Then in the middle of our grumbling and protesting, perhaps we should once more confront ourselves with this fundamental question: “Who is Jesus to us?” Not until we find the right answer, the above messages will continue to be the “stumbling block” and the “foolishness” to us.