The name Christ is not a surname. It means ‘anointed one.’ Those who were anointed were Messiah figures. The coming of a Messiah had been anticipated for centuries up until the time of Jesus. Some like the Pharisees thought the Messiah would be a “New Moses”, one that would bring a whole lot of stringent laws to their liking. Others like the Zealots thought he would be the one to drive out the occupying Roman forces so that Israel could be free and prosperous once again. This was the disciples view as well. They were expecting glory.
However Jesus tells them that he is going to be a very different kind of Messiah. His life was going to be one of self-sacrifice and loving service. The love he was going to give to others would be unconditional. Peter did not want to know about it. He had not signed up for this!! Jesus would not allow the path he had set to be thwarted by anyone. In rebuking Peter in the strongest possible way Jesus makes it clear that there are no half measures for the true disciple. They were either with him or they weren’t.
Jesus begins by asking his disciples “Who do you say I am?” This is in front of the Emperor Caesar Augustus’ Temple in Caesarea Philippi. Most people in the Roman Empire would have viewed Emperor Caesar Augustus as the ‘anointed one.’ Jesus positioned himself there deliberately to show that his view of real power is in opposition to the view of the world. Real power exists in humility, service and even being willing to undergo suffering if the occasion demanded it.
The question for us is are we prepared to place Christ at the centre of our lives with all that it demands? As St James challenges us in our Second Reading what is our evidence that we are headed in that direction? Does our faith express itself in unconditional love and service? Jesus tells us that there can be no notional assent for the true disciple. The question is are we with him or not?