25th Sunday OT year B:
Last week we heard Jesus asking his disciples: who do you say that I am? Peter responded with his great proclamation of faith: you are the Christ. This confession is the beginning of faith. It is the center of our faith. Jesus Christ, the son of God reveals to us the Father and he sends the Spirit upon the Church. Jesus Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God, so everything we know and everything we believe begins with this one statement: you are the Christ.
But, faith is more than something we know. Faith has everything to do with who we are and what we do. For us to say Jesus is the Christ has implications. Simply to believe with our minds is not sufficient. Faith is not simply a matter of knowledge, faith is a relationship with Christ that bears on how we live. This is why Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. Last week we heard Jesus invite the crowds: if you wish to follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me. Today we celebrate the memory of one of these disciples. Today we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. Remember that St. Matthew was sitting at his customs post, minding his own business. Jesus approaches him and simply says: follow me. Matthew left everything behind to follow him. What an inspiration for all of us! Jesus says to each one of us: follow me.
Like St. Matthew we are followers of Jesus, like St. Peter we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. So today we can picture ourselves in the company of Jesus, we are walking with him, following him. What is his message: the son of man will be handed over, killed, and rise on the third day. The central message of Jesus is his death and resurrection. That was the central message in the gospel, and it is the central message down till the present day. In fact, we say that every Mass is a renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary. At every Mass we enter into the very dying and rising of Jesus. As we walk along on this journey of faith with Christ, the central message is the same: Jesus has died, but he rose again.
But this is, by no means, an easy message. St. Paul said many years ago that the cross is a stumbling block to the Jewish people and foolishness to the Gentiles. Remember how we began: Jesus is the Christ, but he explains that the Christ will suffer. This is not how we would have drawn it up. In our cosmic game plan Jesus would have annihilated sin and death with fire and brimstone from heaven. So the cross is indeed difficult to understand. But, we are in good company: the gospel relates that the disciples did not understand the teaching. Indeed the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus is certainly a mystery. But if we probe this mystery we find the love of God poured out upon the world for the salvation of all. So, my friends we constantly proclaim the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the more we understand this mystery the more we know and love Christ.
But, there is something puzzling about the gospel passage. It says they were afraid to question Jesus. Why were they afraid? Well I wasn’t there, but my best guess is that they were afraid to ask Jesus because they understood the implications. If Jesus is going to suffer, that means we too will suffer. If we are following Jesus, and he will deny himself and pick up his cross, then as followers we will have to do the same. No wonder they were afraid, their whole conversation was not about self-denial: they were arguing about who was the greatest. The same might be true for all of us: if we follow Jesus as St. Matthew did, if we hear the proclamation of his death and resurrection, we might see the implications. To follow Jesus means to lay down one’s life like he did. But there is no other path to happiness and holiness, there is no other path to life everlasting than the way of the Cross: listen again to the words of St. James: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.
Today we remember St. Matthew, we remember our patron who had the courage to follow Christ. Through his intercession may we have the courage to do the same: St. Matthew, our Patron: pray for us.