Not too long ago I had the opportunity to spend some time enjoying and afternoon of a beautiful day in a city park – sitting on a bench, appreciating the sunlight and watching the people. At one point I noticed a young family strolling down a path – a husband, wife and their little toddler who was obviously just learning to walk and was also very determined to do so on his own. At one point the little boy stumbled and fell, his father picked him up, set him on his feet and the little boy was off again with his parents following behind. The little boy was learning to walk both with every step but also every stumble. It was a very common sight but also very beautiful and true and it gives us, I believe, a wonderful image to hold in relation to today’s gospel passage (Mk. 8:27-35).
All aspects of the gospel message are important and this even includes location and context. The context of today’s gospel is worthy of note. Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples… They are walking, they are on journey and it is in this context that Jesus puts forth his question. “Who do people say that I am?” Yes, our Lord is taking this moment to teach his disciples about his identity (who he is) but, he is also teaching them by this question and what follows how “to walk” as disciples. In this gospel passage we find that the Lord is teaching us (like those parents with their son) how to walk as disciples in the world.
Yes, the Gospel proclaims the truth of who Christ is as savior but it also teaches us what it means to be a disciple. It is not enough to proclaim, “Lord, Lord” but then not do anything about it. If we are going to talk the talk then we need to also walk the walk. Faith of itself, writes James in today’s second reading (James 2:14-18), if it does not have works is dead.
That day in the park, the natural progression of life was propelling that toddler to walk, even after stumbling. The child was determined. He had to do it. The natural movement of faith leads one to live faith. We must not short-circuit this truth. We must grow, we must mature as disciples if we are not to remain in a state of frustration. We must learn how to walk as disciples in the world.
To walk as a disciple in the world means to learn to judge things differently and therefore to live by a different standard – not the world’s but God’s. The disciple must learn to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Christ. This is the lesson that Peter stumbled upon and had to learn even after proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s Messiah will rule from the defeat and weakness of the cross rather than the power of the world. The disciple must also learn this and walk the same path that the Master trod. Anything less is a short-circuiting of the natural and authentic thrust of faith. Anything less is a selling short of discipleship and of self.
Yes, this if frightening and we will stumble, just like Peter, but our Lord is kind and merciful and in this we find comfort. Our Lord will pick us up and set us on our feet again. And in this we will know true joy and fulfillment. The authentic joy of doing and achieving what one is meant to do and to achieve. The joy of coming to be what one is meant to be.
As the toddler walked on down the path, even after his stumble, he was all smiles – precisely because he was doing and achieving what he was meant to do and to achieve. Here is where joy is found and experienced. We must grow. We must mature in faith. We are meant to learn how to walk as authentic disciples in our world.