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The Cross reveals the true identity of Jesus Christ

On the Readings for Sunday, September 12, 2021

(Image: Ricky Turner @ricky_turner |

• Isa 50:5-9a
• Psa 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
• Jas 2:14-18
• Mk 8:27-35

Even after 2,000 years, people continue to misunderstand or misrepresent Jesus. Examples are plentiful. For example, there is neo-televangelist Joel Osteen, who churns out cheery books and breezy sermons that sidestep the realities of sin, the Cross, and the Passion of Christ. That approach is oddly similar to the New Age-ism of Deepak Chopra, whose book The Third Jesus completely ignores the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the real Jesus. And then there is Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”, who actually ends up being, as I wrote here, “dull, confusing, and lacking.”

Today’s Gospel is from the very middle of St. Mark’s account. Throughout the first half of the book there is an intense focus on the identity of Jesus. Who is he? What is he trying to do? While Jesus was rejected (and later persecuted) by the Pharisees and scribes, many others believed he was a true prophet, a new Elijah. Jesus’ disciples, who were with him constantly, often had a hard time comprehending his message. In fact, it was the demons who most clearly recognized Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity! “I know who you are”, cried a man possessed by an unclean spirit, “the Holy One of God!” (Mk 1:24). Of course, the scribes claimed Jesus cast out demons because he himself was possessed “by Beelzebul”—an argument quickly shredded by Jesus (Mk 2:20-30).

Today’s reading is both the climax of the first part of Mark and the transition into the second half, which is about the goal of the Son of Man: to give his life for the sake of sinners. The second part answers the central question posed in the first part: Who is Jesus? Mark, however, did not write his Gospel as a mystery; after all, he opens by proclaiming, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1).

That’s because the Gospel is all about proclamation; it was written to challenge and exhort Mark’s immediate readers. Sure, the early Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah. But they were challenged to ponder: would they also be tempted to renounce his Passion and death as Peter did? (Keep in mind it was Peter who probably provided Mark with most of his material.) Yes, they were disciples of Jesus, but when things got difficult, would they take up their cross and follow the Lord?

Today’s Gospel divides into three sections, each containing a name or descriptive of Jesus. Each reveals something essential about his identity and points toward his saving mission: death on the Cross.

The first is Christ, or Messiah. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” After hearing the offered answers, he put the question to them: “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter, the head apostle, who answered for the group: “You are the Christ.” The name “Christ” appears over 500 times in the Old Testament, and it refers to an “anointed one” who will come to establish God’s reign. Anointing with oil represented God’s divine election of a man to a specific mission.

Jesus then began to teach of his coming Passion, death, and Resurrection, using the second name: the Son of Man. Jesus used this often of himself, especially in foretelling his Passion. It emphasizes both the humanity of Christ and the mysterious, royal figure spoken of by Daniel, who will suffer and save his people before being vindicated by God (Dan 7:13). Paradoxically, “Son of Man” refers to both lowly humanity and dazzling power.

The third title is drawn from the prophet Isaiah and from Jesus’ teachings about self-denial and taking up the Cross: the Suffering Servant. He is described in today’s Old Testament from Isaiah as the man willing to endure torment and mockery for the sake of the Lord. That, we know and believe, is what Jesus did. For it is the Cross that fully reveals who Jesus really was—and is.

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Sept. 15th: You speak about Deepak Chopra – he is NewAge – “the New Age-ism of Deepak Chopra, whose book The Third Jesus completely ignores the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the real Jesus.” and yet he is listed as a contributor here. I so appreciate what you wrote and I was struck by Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” I really have to reflect on that because it determines how I live through this crisis in the Church.

    • To me it is CLEAR. The ONLY way to live through this crisis is to keep our focus on Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Church is the WORD of Christ. We CANNOT allow it to fail because of the many traitors to Christ. They have turned their backs on the Message . Therefore WE who have not turned our backs have to make sure the Church stays alive.

  2. “He was a true prophet” (Olson). A prophet witnesses, all previous to Christ to Christ, Christ witnessed to the Father revealing Him through himself. Certainly not a self indulgent messianic Deepak Chopra, rather Christ scripturally theologically demonstrated by Carl Olson. A self revelation that teaches the Cross is what identifies Christ. If I may add, Saint John of the Cross speaks in controversial terms of self annihilation (The Living Flame of Love). What the saint actually refers to is a form of self crucifixion, dying to oneself that the exemplary good, the love that is Christ his essence is revealed through our unique person inclusive of its now apparent idiosyncratic Christlike features.

  3. From the mouths of Modernists, I have heard many times, “God does not want us to suffer” and they then condemn all past teachings of the Church that concern the Cross. These people are what are called apostates. To reject the Cross is to reject all of Christianity. Archbishop Sheen said, “Without the Cross, there is no resurrection”. How can we expect heaven if we reject the only path to it? St. Louis de Monfort said these great words, “The Cross fascinates me, its weight terrifies me”. Scripture says that “God chastises us a little, at first there is no cause to rejoice but when the chastisement is over there is every cause for rejoicing”. To deny our very selves, take up our cross and follow Christ, is the great mystery of Catholicism. But sadly Modernist heretics have taken this out of the hearts of the faithful. What do they think they gain from it? What will be God’s Judgment of those who throw themselves into this satanic horror of horrors?

  4. Jesus calling Saint Faustina his delight and happiness to dwell in her and said: “You must be destroyed in that secret depth where the human eye has never penetrated; then will I find in you a pleasing sacrifice a holocaust full of sweetness and fragrance.” (diary 123, p. 627). “For this Divine purgation is removing all vicious and evil (roots)which the soul has never perceived…” (Dark night of the soul, E Allison Peers, Doubleday image book, p. 128)…”Going forth from itself with much affliction.”
    Jesus died on the cross to redeem us, to destroy death, and to purge and purify us for the Union with Holy God. To deny sin and to deny the bitter sufferings of Christ because of our transgressions, is a gross heresy. Jesus told Caiaphas “You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Holy Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” “Notice that Jesus does not say as we might have expected – since here, there is only question of his divinity – You shall see the Son of God coming in the clouds of heaven as eternal and sovereign judge, but ‘you shall see the Son of Man’….for him those two titles are inseparable. (Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ the life of the soul, p.339) Humanity united to God! Yet, we are his creatures and purging is necessary either in this life or in purgatory; after all we are to be sanctified and divinized in Him “in him we live and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Christi bonus odor sumus Deo (2 Cor 2:15) ” And all shall sing, in their festive dance: “Within you is my true home!” (Ps 87:7) “And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my own special possession on the day I take action.” (Mal 3:17). “This incarnate Word wanted to be engrafted onto the tree. And it was not the cross or the nails that held him there. These were not strong enough to hold the God-Man. No, it was love that held him there.” (Saint Catherine of Sienna)

    • edith wohldmann, That was a stunning comment you posted. I would like to ask you to pray for a special intention of mine. At the age of 17, I read “Fatima in Lucia’s own words”. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked, “Are you willing to offer yourselves as a sacrifice to God in reparation for sins committed against Him and in supplication for the conversion of poor sinners?” When Sr. Lucia answered in the affirmative Our Lady said, “You will have much to suffer”. I accepted that invitation and have suffered tremendously. But I don’t know if God accepted my sacrifice, or if I only suffer through my own fault. If God accepted my sacrifice then I would count my sufferings as nothing. Would you please pray for me to have the answer to my question? Thank you for your comment it gave me an uplift.

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