There is a thread that runs through the preaching of Our Divine Lord in the gospels which scripture scholars call “the messianic secret.” That refers to the fact that Jesus did not to proclaim openly that he was the Messiah, or the Savior, or the Christ—even though he was. And he even discouraged his disciples from spreading the word about his miracles. And of course, he might as well have been talking to the wind; how are you going to keep a group of people—especially simple fishermen and farmers and tradespeople and their wives—from talking about it when a blind man is given his sight; a leper his good health; a group of 4000 hungry people plenty to eat, beginning with practically nothing; and a dead man his life back? Of course people are going to talk!
In the gospel, Jesus asks the apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” They gave several answers. Then he said, “And who do YOU say that I am?” Saint Peter answers very quickly and very simply: “You are the Christ.” That means that he knew Jesus to be the promised savior whom the Jews had been awaiting and expecting for 18 centuries. Then Our Lord says to them, “Don’t tell anyone.” We can imagine that the apostles, with their very human, very natural way of looking at things before the coming of the Holy Spirit, are thinking to themselves: WHY NOT? We’ve been waiting for the Christ since he was promised by God to Abraham 1800 years ago. Why shouldn’t we shout it from the housetops that Jesus is the Christ?
The answer to their question comes in the next paragraph. Jesus tells them that he must go to Jerusalem and there be persecuted by the priests, scribes, and the pharisees. That means the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jewish people. And he would suffer and die, but then would rise again.
The Jewish people had come to expect a military and a political Messiah—one who would liberate them from the domination of the Roman empire and make them truly free again. They expected victory, success, conquest, glory, honor, cheering crowds, people dancing in the streets. And here is Jesus talking about suffering and dying. You see, their problem was a misunderstanding of the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah speaks very clearly about the Suffering Servant of God—the savior who will save his people by his suffering and death. The redeemer who could be described in his sufferings as “a worm, and no man.” But they tuned that out; it was not attractive. Victory is attractive; not defeat. Happiness is attractive; not suffering. Well, Our Lord Jesus Christ is now totally victorious, totally happy; but the road to those things lay through the way of the cross. So, he says in effect, let me first suffer and die and rise from the tomb. THEN you can proclaim to the world that I am the Christ, and some will believe you.
We, who see more clearly than the Apostles before Pentecost, say in our Lenten liturgy: We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because BY YOUR HOLY CROSS you have redeemed the world! Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.