A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 9: 18 — 24
Addendum 9: 25 — 27
At first reading of this passage, St. Luke may appear to be gathering up a few stray sayings of Our Lord and squeezing them into his Gospel to ensure they are not altogether lost. Our text, however, is a presentation crafted by St. Luke to give us a very clear perception — what we might call these days, an overview of the Kingdom of God in action. In a way it is the moment of truth when Jesus consolidates for His future Apostles (who alone are present) the two-sided view they need to have of the Kingdom: the glorious and the hideous. Unless they had both, they were not hearing His Teaching. This was as hard for them as it is for us today. In some periods of history, members of the Church may get away with basking in the sunshine of a victorious Church and very comfortable Christianity. In the 21st Century the Church is moving into an age of persecution as cruel and frightening as any in its history. We do not know where, when or how the next wave of suffering will break out. Our Lord’s Teaching was recorded faithfully to help the Church to be constantly on the alert down through the ages — to be ready.
Some reflections from our text
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples
were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
The opening scene in our short “event,” is particularly important. “Jesus was praying in solitude.” His future Apostles were somewhere very close — we are not sure of the details. We could say they are “on retreat” They are included in the Lord’s intimate fellowship with God. It is thus, for them, a moment of intense encounter with the Lord. The next mention of Jesus “at prayer” is a week later when, in front of three of those disciples, He is transfigured.
So, from the opening words of Our Lord we are aware of a very strong focus He lays before His disciples; and He chooses to do this in a context of prayer and submission to the will of His Father.
Jesus, known to His disciples as Rabbi Yeshua, turns to them and asks: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” That may sound and easy question, but there was probably a little hesitation among some to tell Him the truth!
They said in reply, “John the Baptist”; others, “Elijah”;
still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen”.
They tell Him everything that He is not. Each title is complimentary, but shows the people as uncertain what to make of Him and what He has been saying.
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”
Our Lord invites them to give their opinion about who He is. St. Peter is the only one to answer saying: “You are God’s Messiah.” By this he means that Rabbi Yeshua is the Anointed One who will bring to fulfilment all of the Biblical prophecies regarding Israel. In Hebrew, the Anointed One is “Ha Mashiach”. Thus His disciples came to call Him Yeshua Ha Mashiach. We are more familiar with the Greek form, Jesus (the) Christ (Messiah).
“The destiny of Israel is to attain perfect union with Yahweh through
unqualified submission to His Will; only then will it attain peace and
salvation, and the reign of Yahweh thus established in Israel will
be extended to all men.” [Dictionary of the Bible, J. L. McKenzie, S.J.]
St. Peter recognises the fulfilment of all the prophecies about the Messiah in Hebrew Scriptures, all the hopes of Israel, in their Rabbi Jesus.
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
The Greek can be translated as, “He charged and commanded them,” meaning He commanded them strictly, in a severe tone. In another style of language we could say, “He forbade them emphatically” to tell this to anyone. For what reason, we might ask?
Our Lord was very aware that there were plenty of people who would literally hijack His mission and use it to their own ends. He thus forbids any gossip which could spark any sort of messianic revolution, and fuel revolt against the Roman occupiers.
It is also believed Jesus Messiah wanted the people to arrive at their conclusion about Him based on the works He does as fulfilment of Sacred Scripture, rather than by the proclamation of a devotee.
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be
rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
So far, St. Luke has written four verses identifying and confirming in the minds of the chosen twelve, that Jesus, Rabbi Yeshua, as they knew Him — Jesus is the Messiah.
Now, in a single sentence, Our Lord states briefly but with great clarity just how God’s Messiah is to fulfil all the prophecies. This, we know from other texts, stuns His little group. Their expectations of a triumphant Messiah, almost effortlessly, achieving victory over every evil, are not much different from the imaginations of the general population.
No replies or comments are recorded. It is not all doom and gloom though. The Messiah, despite everything that happens to Him, will — “on the third day be raised”. It goes over their heads at the time, but in due course, all will become clear.
Verses 23 — 24
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
In a breath, Jesus Messiah had quietly identified and announced exactly how He, referring to the “Son of Man,” will fulfil all prophecy. Now He turns to a wider circle of people in the vicinity and declares that those who choose to follow His Teaching should:
● deny themselves;
● take up their cross daily; and
● follow Jesus Messiah.
Our Lord is saying that those who listen to His Teaching and respond with all their heart will share with Him His sacrificial fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures. That is a sublime privilege He extends to His genuine followers — that they, as His Body, the Church, are participating in the work the Messiah has been anointed to do. Whilst His sacrifice is the perfect and complete atonement, He calls us to share in it and thus be united with Him and allow Him through us to share His gifts with the whole of creation. And we will be called upon to do this until He comes again.
Thus, those who hand over their lives to Him and choose to live only in and by Him, will find fullness of life in every way: indeed, it will be the fullness of Messiah-Life.
Further, the self-sacrifice (death to their own selves) they undertake will be offered in union with the Saviour’s preparation for His Glorious Return. They are thereby preparing the way of the Lord, for the Messiah’s Second Coming to bring all things to completion.
This is the honour He bestows on those who deny themselves and take up their cross daily. It is all for the sake of the coming Kingdom.
Verses 25 — 27
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will
be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the
Father and of the holy angels.
Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not
taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Our Lord caps off His short instructions with a typical rabbinic question, “Why would you put everything into building up your worldly assets — which only have value in this life — when you can put your spiritual energy into helping Me prepare for My Return and the perfect establishment of God’s Kingdom for all eternity?” And He emphasises in rabbinic style, as we would say: “Be grateful for and proud of My Teaching; and therefore glow with zeal to share it among those not so privileged. In this way you will, likewise, glow with zeal for My Return in Glory, and in the Father’s Glory and in the Glory of the Holy Angels.”
Although not part of the Sunday text, we have added these few verses to emphasise something exceptionally important. In the brief “cameo” St. Luke has so skilfully sketched for us, Our Lord’s “drift” has been to declare how the Scriptures will be fulfilled, and He, the Messiah, has come to do this in obedience to His Father — and in the process He offers us partnership both in the means as well as in the end result! Everything points to His Glorious Return at the close of time and He is gathering now those who wish to accept His invitation to be with Him in His Kingdom for the rest of eternity.
Even in Our Lord’s time, many of His listeners would have felt there was little likelihood they would experience and kind of manifestation of the Messianic Coming in Glory. It is so human for us to think that it must be a long way off! Our Messiah is very aware of this human tendency and, as usual, takes our needs into account. And so He adds words to the effect: “Do you know there are some (three actually, we later find out) standing here, who — in full possession of all their human faculties, are going to be given a glimpse of the real world — and it will be a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.” He did this to emphasise that we must hear His Teaching in a spiritual mode of listening and with spiritual perception. These are skills discipleship demands — and they are within reach of every follower.
Eight days later, Our Lord took three of His chosen disciples, up a mountain and they witnessed Him in His true glory. It was not just a glimpse of His future glory, but His eternal glory, [Read more — Transfiguration]. What was even more remarkable, was the glimpse of the glory God’s Messiah has in place for us, demonstrated by the appearance of Elijah and Moses!
Some scholars of the Church have written that Our Blessed Messiah came to release the Church from the shackles of Judaism. We would express it in this way. Our Lord fulfilled wonderfully the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, enables the Church, His Body, to be a light to the nations. It is true that, in fulfilling the Sacred Scriptures, He rendered the accumulated traditions associated with the Law as transformed into new obligations. Rabbi Yeshua thus demanded more of His followers — not less! They must lose their lives completely for His sake (verse 24). Thus it can be said, the Son of God came as God’s Messiah to fulfil the true dignity and destiny of Israel as His light for all the nations.
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped
you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners
from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
[Isaiah 42: 6 — 7]
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes
of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light
to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
[Isaiah 49: 6]
“….. a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
[Luke 2: 32]
Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
[John 8: 12.]
Those who listen to Him with the ears of their heart (as St. Benedict used to say) and feed on His Word (in meditation) will hear His unique message to each individual soul. Only in such close contact with Him can He share with each of us what He wants us to take into the world around us. Each of us has our own commission and He patiently awaits our attention and presence.
We close with a word from the Venerable Bede:
“…..All of us who hope for the fruit of His Resurrection, and long to
see the King in His Glory, must dwell in Heaven by our thoughts,
and apply our minds to continual prayer.”
“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching (Torah) contained in His Word and in doing so, remain close to Him. [The following are only examples illustrating how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.]
1. Our Lord wanted, in His ministry days, to be perceived as Messiah on account of how He fulfilled the Scriptures. He didn’t just want to be known as a wonder-worker. Little has changed. When we know what He is fulfilling, why and how, we are then equipped to give account to others, as the opportunity arises, just exactly what He means to us. This is a life-time study of the whole Biblical story — but every effort brings us closer to Him — and through us — brings Him closer to others. When we remain faithful to the disciplines of Scripture reflection and meditation, it is impossible, utterly impossible not to share His presence with others, even when we are unaware of doing so.
2. It can be daunting to reflect upon “taking up our cross daily”. All the Saints teach much the same in this regard: success comes from willingly taking up the little crosses that crop up endlessly, day-after-day. No need to wait for the big ones — just one small step at a time. That, thankfully, is within the reach of everyone.
3. The Venerable Bede (as he was known in his lifetime) made a good point. We need the vision of Heaven through our prayer and meditation to strengthen our resolve to get there — and to give us the courage and determination to give others the chance as well. The Saints down throughout history have consistently encouraged the whole Church to give priority, first to the contemplative mode and disciplines and then secondly — as a natural progression — to share God’s companionship and message of love with the rest of humanity.
New American Bible
Luke 9: 18 — 27
18 Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
19 They said in reply, “John the Baptist”; others, “Elijah”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen”.
20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”
21 He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
22 He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
25 What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
26 Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
27 Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.