Saturday, September 29, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Sunday, September 16, 2012
24th Sunday OT:
At the heart of our gospel today is the question of identity. The question begins in general terms, even Jesus says: who do people say that I am? The responses of the people are as general as Jesus' own question: some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. In other words, some people say you are a great preacher who is traveling around preaching repentance just like John the Baptist. Others are saying even more, you are a prophet like Elijah who was the man of God. These answers are not wrong, Jesus was a preacher who spoke of repentance; he was a prophet who spoke about and for God. But, while these people who said Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet might not have been wrong, they weren't correct. These titles do not get to who Jesus really is.
After this question of generalities, Jesus makes it alarmingly concrete: who do you say that I am? What an uncomfortable question! Imagine that someone walked up to you and asked: who do you say that I am? Even if it was your spouse or your child, it would be a hard question to answer.
Jesus really puts Peter on the spot here. Who am I? Do you know me better than those others who think of me as just another prophet or preacher? Am I more than that? But, Peter doesn't even hesitate: you are the Christ. This answer is vastly different from the previous answers, which were generic and spoke about the things that Jesus did. This new answer gets to the very identity of Jesus: you are not just some preacher, not just another prophet: you are the Christ, the son of God.
So, it seems like there are two camps in the world: those who know about Jesus, and those who know Jesus. The first group sees only the things Jesus said and did: he is some great prophet. The second group knows Jesus, knows his identity: you are the Christ.
How is Peter able to see Jesus and identify who he really is? How does he get into the second group? There is no doubt that Peter heard Jesus preaching, that he thought of him as a prophet, but how did he get past the generalities? Peter knew Jesus. It is just that simple. Peter had a relationship with Christ, he spent time with him, spoke with him, followed him, etc. He got to know Jesus on a personal level. He was able to move beyond generalities because he encountered Jesus in the specifics of his life.
Don't we all want to do the same? Don't we all want to know Jesus? It is not enough to know about Jesus; salvation, holiness, and grace come from knowing Jesus. How do we get from the first group to the second group? Jesus gives us a roadmap: whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow after me. The way to know Jesus is to follow him, the way to follow him is to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
This is, by no means, an easy task. The road of discipleship can be a road of suffering and hardship, but this should not surprise us. We are Christians, we bear the name of Christ. He suffered, and we suffer. He denied himself on the cross, we deny ourselves in our daily lives. But it is in and through our difficulties that we follow Christ, that we become like him, that we get to know him. Here in this holy Eucharist, Christ comes to us and he asks us the same question he asked St. Peter: who do you say that I am? We will only be able to answer this question well if we follow Jesus, if we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
23rd Sunday OT:
Our God will come with vindication for his people. These words of the prophet Isaiah capture the faith of the people of Israel. More than likely these words were written sometime near the time of the exile. It was a difficult time, they were being attacked by Assyria, their nation was crumbling around them. But, they held onto their faith that God would come to save them.
How beautiful for us to read this passage in the light of Christ. The people of Israel believed that God would never leave them, never abandon them. They believed that God would bring them salvation, but who could imagine how God planned, in the fullness of time, to bring about this salvation: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. The Good News of salvation is that God indeed comes for his people. He came as one of us; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This time God wasn't bringing salvation from Assyrians, Egyptians, or Babylonians. This time he came to do battle with the very brokenness of humanity itself. Our Savior came to do battle with sin, with death, with the fallenness that is ours. Jesus came to speak Good News to his people.
Jesus came to bring salvation to Israel, to the chosen people, but, he also came as a man to speak to all men and women. We see this truth in our gospel today. Right at the beginning of our reading we hear that Jesus entered the Decapolis. This region was a gentile region. The man in the story today becomes a symbol for all the Gentiles, all the non-Jewish people, in other words all of us. We know that in the Old Testament, God spoke to his people Israel through the prophets. But, non-Jewish people might be considered deaf to the voice of God. So, the deaf person in the gospel could stand for all those who were outside of the people of Israel, deaf to the Word of God. But, Christ opens the ears of the Gentile. When Christ comes among us, he opens our ears to hear the Good News of salvation. After he opens our ears, it becomes imperative that he touches our tongues as well, for after having heard Good News, it is impossible to be silent.
Christ came to preach the Good News to all, to open the ears of all humanity so that we can hear God's Word, he came to loosen our tongues so we could proclaim this Word. By his incarnation, by taking on our common human nature, no one is excluded. Christ came for us all. This is why James found the giving of preferential treatment to a class of people so offensive. Christ came for all of us, rich and poor, Jewish and Gentile, slave and free.
And look at the price that Christ pays to open our ears and touch out tongues. It says in the gospel today that Jesus groaned. Think of another time when Christ is in agony: on the cross. Every time we look at the Cross of Christ we see how much he loves every person on the planet, every human person who has ever lived. Christ came for all, and he gave himself up for all. As Christians, as those who have been touched by Christ, we too should go out to all of humanity. By his death on the Cross Jesus brought salvation for his people.
We were first touched by the power of this sacrifice on the day of our baptism, and we are strengthened and renewed by this sacrifice every time we gather at this altar. And at the end of this mass, and every mass, we are sent on a mission to go and announce the gospel of the Lord. Each week we reenact this gospel passage, Christ touches our ears with his words, he touches our tongues in Holy Communion, then we go out to spread the Good News.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
22nd Sunday of OT:
This is one of those weeks where our readings are speaking to us about morality. Morality is the way we live our lives as disciples of Jesus. James exhorts us in the second reading: be doers of the word and not hearers only. The word of God is living and active. Rather than being something that can be grabbed and possessed, the Word of God grabs and possesses us, it spurs us on to action. We hear the word of God and we want to put it into practice.
Sounds good so far, right? Hear the word of God and put it into practice by living a moral life. But, there can often be a bit of a disconnect between faith and life. We hear about Jesus, we believe in him, we want to be his disciples, we understand that living the moral life is what this means. Then what do we get? It seems like we get a bunch of rules and regulations. We want to follow Jesus, and we get a list of things we are not supposed to do: thou shalt not this, that, and the other thing. Whether it is the 10 commandments, the moral teachings of the gospel, or something from the Catechism, it seems to outline a bunch of stuff we are not allowed to do.
And, maybe it is just me, but doesn't it seem like God looked at the human heart, found all the things we really want to do, then made commandments against it? Don't we love to speak ill of our neighbor: can't do it, that's gossip. Don't we just love to be angry at our enemies: can't do it, we are supposed to love our enemies. Don't we just love to indulge in any kind of pleasurable thing: can't do it, that is lust, or greed, or gluttony. It seems like we are stuck in some cosmic tug of war. On the one hand there is the moral code, and on the other, there are the inclinations of our hearts set in opposition. So, for many of us, life becomes a matter of trying to dodge the sin we might desire in our hearts. It is almost as if sin were potholes in the road: if we can just make it down the street without hitting any of the major potholes we will be ok. But, this is a crazy way to live life. And this is not what morality is supposed to be about. Morality is not a matter of avoiding sin. Rather, it's about living life to the full.
Listen again to the words from Deuteronomy: hear the statutes and decrees (why? So that life will be miserable and you will be prone to fail? No) so that you may live, and may enter and take possession of the land. I find that so beautiful, hear the statutes and decrees so that you may live. God gives us the commandments through Christ and the Church not because he wants us to struggle and fail, but because he wants us to be happy and blessed. We were not made for sin! We were made to be holy, to be with God, to live.
But, what about our sinful inclinations: today Christ labels it so well, there is a bunch of junk that can pour out of our hearts: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, etc. We have inherited original sin, we are prone to fall. But, Christ came to help us. Through grace, we can be healed, maybe not totally in this life. Christ came to set us free, he came to purify our minds and our hearts. Jesus did not come simply to give us a new set of rules and regulations; rather, he came to set us free. He does this especially through the sacraments. When we are baptized, confirmed, when we receive communion, confess our sins, when we are anointed, when you got married, when I got ordained, the grace of God is at work within us, making us more like Christ, healing us down to our hearts.
So the moral life was not given to us to make us miserable. It is a guide to true human fulfillment. While our hearts are set in opposition to the law, Christ came to set us free. We cannot lose hope. Christ came to renew and transform us, Christ came to heal our hearts, so that a life of discipleship is not one of misery, but one of joy. Right here in this Holy Eucharist Christ pours his life out for us, as we receive his body and blood, he can transform us, heal us, set us free so that we can live and be with him in that promised land that awaits us.