Studying God’s Word

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24 [96C]
In the Gospel reading for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear Jesus pose a question to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” In responding to their answer, Jesus defines the essence of Christian discipleship.
One of the fundamental questions that each of the New Testament Gospel writers address is the question of discipleship: what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? In the Gospel of John, for example, disciples are defined as those who bring others to Christ. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:4-42) is a prime example of Johannine discipleship. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, discipleship is also clearly defined. Anyone who wants to be called a disciple of Jesus “must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow” him. 
Following Mark, Luke sets up the question of discipleship within the larger narrative context of Jesus’ first Passion prediction and the question of Jesus’ messianic identity. Jesus initially asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Notice that the crowds rightly perceive Jesus as some sort of prophet, similar to Elijah and John the Baptist. But Jesus-as-prophet is only one aspect of his messianic identity. Jesus then asks the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for the others, “The Christ of God”—God’s anointed One. Scholars have long debated why Jesus’ “rebuked” Peter and the other disciples for Peter’s correct answer. Many conclude the answer lies in what Jesus says next: the first of three Passion predictions. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” The problem with Peter’s response was with how Peter and the other disciples likely defined the Jewish messiahship. Jesus saw suffering at the heart of his identity as Christ—an aspect of God’s anointed One that the disciples and the crowds had not considered and would have probably rejected, despite (as heard in the first reading from Zechariah) Israel’s prophesies.
What probably startled and certainly challenged the disciples was Jesus’ insistence that his followers must likewise anticipate suffering: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” For Luke, discipleship was not a call to martyrdom; it was a call to orient the daily sufferings in life, in whatever form they take—anxiety, fear, doubt, anger, sadness—through the prism of the cross of Christ: self-sacrifice and absolute dependence upon God.
We continue to hear from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as the second reading. Today’s reading captures well the core of Paul’s Gospel message: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” This helps explains Paul’s strenuous objections to circumcision—an outward sign of Jewish separation from the nations (the Gentiles). Paul insisted that through their common faith in Christ, all people enjoyed a new status as “Abraham’s descendent” and, as such, could now think of themselves as “heirs” to God’s promise established in the Abrahamic covenant. While this assertion may seem obvious to contemporary believers, in Paul’s day, this was a radical and dangerous concept.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz