Today’s Gospel passage describes an important turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Today St Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ of God”. As in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, it is when St Peter on behalf of the disciples declares Jesus to be the Christ of God, that Jesus first predicts his own passion and death. This is not what the disciples were expecting, neither for Jesus nor for themselves. In Luke’s Gospel this is shown by the way the disciples seem to ignore the passion predictions and look for status and position and power as the Gospel goes on. After Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ identity, St Luke gives us Jesus’ words and teaching associated with this incident but without the exchanges with Peter and the disciples that give rise to them in Matthew and Mark. There is no “naming” nor does Jesus tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” In Luke all we have are Jesus’ own words.
As I was thinking on this Gospel, I was thinking that it must have been strange for the disciples to hear that the elders and the chief priests and the scribes would reject Jesus, for they would have been the representatives, the spokesmen for the Jewish people. Then I remembered that I had had the same thought and had preached on it when the parallel passage from Mark or Matthew had come up.
Perhaps though I might move my thought on a bit, because here we do not have the disciples’ reactions. Judea in the first century was hardly a democracy. Power was in the hands of the Roman procurator, but he had to use local institutions and local advisors so there were “politics”, which mean alliances and rivalries. Earlier in this chapter of Luke, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee has been wondering who Jesus was and wanting to meet him to find out what he is like. Is Jesus a political ally, an opportunity, or is he a threat?
When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the elders and the chief priests ask themselves the same questions. How does he fit in with their agenda? And if he will not work with them but seems to be working to establish a power base outside the normal workings of politics, then he is a threat.
But Jesus has come neither to confirm not to subvert the works of the politicians. He has come to bring them salvation. Politicians make alliances to get what they want and to prevent what they want to prevent; we all do it; it is part of being human. Humans are social and therefore political animals. Politics is a human activity and important, but as a human activity it cannot bring salvation. No human activity can.
However important this is, Jesus stands outside politics and political action. He does not work with politicians, he saves them. He brings them the presence of God. Of course, since they cannot use him, the politicians of his time fear and oppose him, even with deadly violence. And all the time, Jesus is saving those who attack him.
For us, it means we cannot ourselves use Jesus for our own ends. We cannot form an alliance with him; we cannot bargain with him. We all try to. Jesus wants more for us than our own way. God made us and we are more important, each one of us, to God than we are to ourselves. Sent by the Father, Jesus has come to bring us with himself by the Holy Spirit to the Father so that we share in the life of God.
We cannot negotiate with Jesus, but we can follow him, which means renouncing ourselves and taking up our cross every day. We cannot avoid the cross. The cross each one of us has to take up is our own personal cross. Like the cross of Jesus it is made up basically of our own sins and the sins of others but our cross is personal to each of us. For many of us the heaviest element of the cross is our own self.
Yet it is through carrying our cross after Jesus that we will come also to Resurrection. “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it,” says Jesus.