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Hold that thought

Jesus loved being with His disciples. He was always teaching them and pursuing an overall goal of preparing them to live in union with Him. In the passage we willingly hear and pray this weekend, we find the Master Teacher accomplishing a "breakthrough moment" with the disciples. While it is of interest to do a poll of what other people might think of Him, what really matters to the Teacher is what these closest followers think. They will be the ones to transmit his life-changing, world-changing teachings to the rest of the people - if they themselves get it right. Peter, in this passage gets it right. Jesus, for reasons deeper than this one of teaching, tells them not to tell anyone the correct answer Peter gave. Paraphrasing Him we might hear: "Yes, I am the Christ. Now hold that thought."

The success of the Teacher opens the way for Him to push for more, to move to more advanced topics, so to speak. If He is the Christ and they are His followers they will need to know some important things. If they are already following Him they will need to know where the road He walks will lead.

The next lesson is taught: 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.

In terms of lessons to teach, that one is among the most important ones ever. It is about what will happen to Him but they most certainly began to "do the math" regarding themselves. We know from other instances in the Gospels that the disciples did not like to hear about the way He would be treated. We also know that they did not know how to make sense of what it might mean to be raised after He is killed. Nonetheless, the Master Teacher is teaching them. Listen to His words. Think about them. Try to apply them. The Disciples' Class requires that. The Master requires it. In this case the obvious lesson is that the breakthrough of recognizing that He is the Christ comes with demands. If He is the one sent by God and if He is God, then any follower of His is involved in big things. "Hold that thought" means to hold on to it and to be ready to add to it. The quiz material (so far) concerns who Jesus is and what will become of Him. Even so, the brightest ones in the class could tell that they were on the same path. Suffering, rejection, death - and being raised up?

The Master lived an impressive life. The disciples were constantly observing the things He did, His disciplined life of prayer, His spontaneous way of interacting, His impressive miracles and, of course, His compelling teachings. The connection he makes next in the "breakthrough class" is one that connects His way of living (and, hopefully someday, theirs) with the prediction He has just given them about the saving events to come.

Class continues: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

The ideas He expresses here are realities they had seen Him live. His regular way of life included self-denial. This invitation to imitate Him was inspiring to hear, although for some it was, no doubt, intimidating too. Now, they had a clear reason to find it within themselves to live as He lived. In a way, He was offering them a beginning course in the Way of the Cross or His way. Imagine the generosity they began to show in their new efforts to forget their own preferences and to lose their lives for His sake. Imagine in prayer the freedom that we can find if we learn the lessons of what to do once we recognize who He is. Did the sacrifices they made at His invitation make more sense when they saw Him carry the Cross? If not, maybe it was because they had not yet seen Him rise. What might our excuse be, knowing, as we do, the whole story? Hold that thought.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016