Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus teaches that those who would follow him must take up his or her cross.
Background on the Gospel
Today's reading is the turning point in Mark's Gospel. In the presentation of the life and ministry of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark, the deeds of Jesus have shown Jesus to be the Son of God. Yet many, including Jesus' disciples, have not yet realized his identity. In today's Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples for a field report by asking what others say about him. He then turns the question directly to the disciples and asks what they believe. Peter speaks for all of them when he announces that they believe Jesus to be the Christ.
The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means “the anointed one.” At the time of Jesus, the image of the Messiah was laden with popular expectations, most of which looked for a political leader who would free the Jewish people from Roman occupation. Jesus does not appear to have used this term for himself. As we see in today's reading, Jesus refers to himself instead as the Son of Man, a term derived from the Jewish Scriptures, found in the Book of Daniel and in other apocryphal writings. Many scholars suggest that the phrase Son of Man is best understood to mean “human being.”
Now that the disciples have acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, Jesus confides in them the outcome of his ministry: he will be rejected, must suffer and die, and will rise after three days. Peter rejects this prediction, and Jesus rebukes him severely. The image of Christ that Jesus is giving is not the image of the Messiah that Peter was expecting. Jesus then teaches the crowd and the disciples about the path of discipleship: To be Christ's disciple is to follow in the way of the cross.
We can easily miss the fear that Jesus' words must have evoked in his disciples. Death by crucifixion was all too familiar as a method of execution in Roman-occupied territories. It was also an omnipresent danger to the Christian community for whom Mark wrote. The path that Jesus was inviting his disciples to share meant tremendous suffering and death. This is the kind of radical commitment and sacrifice that Jesus calls us to adopt for the sake of the Gospel.