A Sermon on Luke 9:18 ff.
Preached 14 October, 2010
Feast of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereshewsky, Bishop and missionary.
Today’s gospel reading is a climactic moment in Luke’s narrative. Within Luke, Chapter 4 verse 14 to chapter 9 verse 51 forms what might be described as one “act” of the Gospel narrative. In this act, we follow Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee to the time when he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” And througout this act, the question on everyone’s mind is, who is Jesus?
From the beginning of his ministry on, someone is always asking about Jesus’ identity. In the five chapters that recount Jesus’ Galilean minisity, I count six times when people ask about Jesus “Who is this man?” By Chapter 9 even Herod has heard about Jesus, and is wondering who he is. Luke 9:9 “. . . it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod Said ‘John I beheded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?’” .
So everyone wants to know: Who is Jesus? There’s a lot of dramatic tension built up around this question, and just as the tension has become almost unbearable, Jesus himself asks the disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18). They give the same answers that Herod had been hearing: John the Baptist, Elijah, or a Prophet.
Then, Jesus does just what the disciples were probably hoping he would not do: he asks them “Who do you say that I am?” (9:20). It is taking a liberty with the text, but I imagine there followed an awkward silence. Jesus has asked the big question, and nobody wanted to get it wrong. It was Peter, true to character, who had the nerve to answer, and he even gets it right. Jesus is “the Christ of God.”
We don’t know exactly what Peter thought it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, but we can be sure that Peter and the other disciples were not expecting what Jesus said next. “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (9:21-22).
They had figured out that Jesus was not just another prophet but the one who would usher in the kingdom of God (Acts 1:6). What they didn’t know yet what that the Cross was the instrument by which God would show forth his glory in the world, and establish his reign. They did not expect a Messiah who would have to be cursed, killed and and raised on the third day. Even as blunt as Jesus is here, it is clear that they do not understand quite what he means by predicting his suffering. That is probably why Jesus tells them to keep his identity secret for the time being: because they don’t really understand it yet, and neither will anyone else; The cross only makes sense in light of the resurrection, and the disciples will have to wait to see that.
Now, the Question of Jesus’ identity was not an academic matter for the disciples, because their own identity’s depended on the answer to this question. In Matthew 10:24 Jesus says that the point of being a disciple is to be like your teacher. So if anyone wants to be Jesus’ disciple, they are also going to have to suffer, and be rejected, just as Jesus did. The twelve, and anyone else who wants to follow Jesus, including those of us here today, are called to take up our cross daily.
So what does it mean to take up our cross daily? We should remember that Crucifixion was a form of punishment. Taking up our cross does not mean just suffering - pagans and atheists suffer. Suffering is just being human. To take up the cross is to accept the suffering, loss and rejection which come as a result of really living the Christian life. Our cross is the suffering that comes from being willing always to put our lives at God’s disposal, and always to speak up for the Gospel, even though that means coming into conflict with the powers of this world that still fight against God. This inevitably results in suffering, and sometimes even in more literal martyrdom.
But we are able to give our lives over to God in this way, because we know that that “Whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will save it,” Jesus is our proof of that, because we know that Son of Man not only suffered many things and was rejected and killed, but that he was raised on the third day. With St. Paul we can say “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come” (Rom.8:18). We can die daily to the world, because we have the hope and the assurance of something better than the world can offer. By taking up our cross daily, we witness to that hope, and we witness not only to Christ’s death, but to his resurrection.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.