The Messianic Secret

Photography © by Andy Coan

Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18).  All volunteer an answer, because describing other people’s opinions requires no personal commitment whatsoever. But then Jesus asks them a tougher question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Answering this one entails sticking your neck out a bit.

The impetuous Peter blurts out what they are all secretly thinking, “The Messiah!”

Just as we are getting ready to break into applause, Jesus throws us a curve ball. As Luke tells us, “He strictly forbade them to tell this to anyone.”


First we need to remind ourselves of the meaning of the term “messiah,” (“Christ” in Greek). For the people of the Old Testament, including Jews of the first century, “messiah” simply meant the “anointed one,” namely, the anointed king of Judah. The model king of Judah was, of course, David (the Bathsheba incident notwithstanding). What did David do for his people? He was a mighty warrior who drove Israel’s enemies out of the Promised Land and made the Jews an independent, proud, and prosperous people.

The last “messiah” to sit on his ancestor’s throne did not manage to do so well.  Far from conquering Israel’s enemies, he was led into exile in Babylon with the few leaders that the Babylonians had not slaughtered. For 500 years there was no “messiah,” no reigning king of Judah. During this time the prophets spoke of a new David to come who would liberate Israel from its enemies. Victory parades, vengeance on the hated Romans, prosperity, jobs, maybe even a new empire, as under Solomon–that’s how people inevitably interpreted such prophecies. When the mother of Zebedee’s sons asked if the boys could sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, this is how she was thinking.

True, Jesus was the Messiah. But the enemy he had come to deal with was much more formidable than the Romans. It would have been easier to drive the Romans out of Palestine that to drive sin out of the human heart. Tiberius Caesar was a tin-horn dictator compared to the Prince of this world.

Yes, Jesus was to ride in triumph into Jerusalem, but on a donkey, not a war horse. Yes, he was to wear a crown, but of thorns, not of gold.

And, yes, his closest associates would share in his exaltation. But he is lifted up not on a dais but on a cross. So simply calling him the Messiah, without explanation, would definitely give people the right word but the wrong idea.

If you look at the total biblical picture and put all the prophecies together, you can see that the cross is part of the basic requirements of the long-awaited messiah. And if you read the entire New Testament, you also see that the cross is part of the basic, required package for the Messiah’s followers. It is not any optional extra for the all-star team. You cannot be a Christian with the proviso that you’ll do anything as long as it remains within your comfort zone.

When Jesus says each disciple must deny his very self and “lose his life,” it should not be misinterpreted. Some people think that means losing their unique identity and personality, that Christianity is like being in a cult where everyone looks, acts and thinks the same.

It is precisely the opposite. We often do not know who we really are, what our true gifts are, what will truly make us happy. God knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us more than we love ourselves. After all, he made each of us. Denying our “selves” means denying our self-will, which is often naive and, in some cases, self-destructive. The cross means laying our lives down for others, which ultimately fulfills who we are at the very core of our being, since we are made in the image likeness of a community of self-giving love, the Holy Trinity.

The cross means that when my will and God’s will cross swords, I drop my sword and God wins. And I trust that His will ultimately will lead to fulfillment of my unique call and personality, even if in the short run, it hurts. If you look at the saints, you see how this plays out. St. Francis of Assisi is very different from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Therese, the Little Flower couldn’t be more diverse in personality and lifestyle. It just proves that submission to God’s will means becoming not a clone, but an amazingly unique masterpiece of the Divine Artist.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) –   Zechariah 12:10-11; Psalms 62:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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