21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Today’s passage from St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel gives us much to ponder and consider about our own belief about and in Jesus, and how we in turn display and present that belief.

In once sense, I suppose, we can identify with the disciples in this episode, because they are called not only to ‘report’ back to Jesus what the crowds say about him – they are called upon to stand up and profess their own understanding of Jesus.

The disciples tell Jesus, when He asks them, that the people say he is a resurrected John the Baptist, or the prophet Elijah, or the prophet Jeremiah, or one of the other great prophets of the Sacred Scriptures from the history of the children of Israel. The people only claim at this point that – if not a miraculous ‘reincarnation’ of one of the prophets of their history – that Jesus is really only one in a long line of prophets.

Prophets are human agents through which God has spoken to and taught His people – but they are still only human beings; nothing more. How often have we heard this repeated in our own day, that Jesus is just another in a long line of wise ‘teachers’ or ‘philosophers’ or ‘prophets’ – just another human (albeit a special one) among many others.

But Jesus becomes more pointed in his question to the disciples;”but, who do you say that I am?’ He doesn’t want to know what others are saying now – He wants to know what the disciples say.

In asking this, He is asking the disciples two things, really; to claim and to proclaim. He wants to know who they claim He is to themselves, and who they proclaim to others that He is.

And of course it is St. Peter who boldly says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus points out the revelatory nature of this – it is not simply by human reckoning or deductive reasoning that Peter has come to this conclusion. It has been revealed to Him by the Spirit of God. It is a grace moment. It is a gift of faith.

Every day, in all of our thoughts, words and actions, we are asked by Jesus, ‘who do you say I am?’

Who do you claim me to be in your heart? Another teacher? A wise sage?

Or like Peter to you understand in your heart that I am the Son of the living God?”

If we answer ‘yes’ to that second question, that we claim in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, then He calls upon us to proclaim that to anyone and everyone we meet in our everyday life. We are to live out that claim, to proclaim it to the world.

If we claim the name of Christian, we are claiming to believe that Jesus is God, and if so, then it is incumbent upon us to proclaim Him as such. Jesus acknowledged His true nature in His response to Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Son of the living God.

Yet like St. Peter, this intimate knowledge of Jesus comes to us through faith, a free gift of God, in which the true nature of Christ is revealed to us by the Father.

We can, and are expected, to use our own reason to come to an understanding of who Jesus is; but ultimately it requires a step beyond our own human reasoning – it requires a leap of faith. That faith is there for the asking, if we only have the courage to ask for it in prayer, and be open to the truth that God reveals.

God reveals Himself in Jesus to us that we might claim Him as our own – and it is in that conviction, fueled by faith and courage that we proclaim Him to others.

Pantokrator_of_Sinai

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (A)

We all have a desire to be recognized – to have our accomplishments acknowledged by others – to be affirmed in our place in the ‘order of things’.  Especially when we approach things like the Olympics, we hear constantly how important it is not to ‘come in second place’. That’s a completely natural quality of our humanity – but it can be overdone.  If we allow that desire to become dis-ordered, to grow to the point where it consumes our thinking, we can delude ourselves into a mindset where we come to think and believe and act as if everything and everyone revolves around us; “it’s all about me!”  Anyone with even a tenuous grip on reality knows full well, that as individuals, the world does not ‘revolve around us’ and that we are not always the centre of things; that very rarely in life, is it “all about me”.

And yet we have a culture and society that has evolved to the point where we are constantly encouraged and enticed into this way of thinking.  ‘All things have to cater to my convenience, to my tastes, my personal views’ as if ours are the only needs that are important, no matter how –at times- trivial they may be.

We can all see how easily we can be manipulated into this thought process- and how disordered it really is; “buy this or that product or wear this or that fashion or listen to this or that style of music to show your individual personality – and fit in by being just like everyone else.” 

For the children of Israel, the coming of the Messiah was a matter of tremendous importance – it had been the subject of prophecy, of study, of faith and hope for centuries upon centuries.  The Messiah, in salvation history, really was the ‘centre’, around which the relationship for the people with God was all about. Whether perceived as a mighty political or military leader, or as God’s servant who would right all wrongs, the Messiah was even bigger than any king or prince or ruler that Israel had encountered in their entire history.

There were those who had suggested that John the Baptist might very well be this Messiah, long foretold in sacred Scripture; imagine how tempting that would have been for him to entertain.  The religious leaders had previously sent people to John to ask him that very question; and yet John not only denies that he is the Messiah, he actually takes an opportunity to publicly point out the one who is the fulfillment of the words of the prophets! 

And he does it, not grudgingly, but with great joy! “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (other translations use the word, “Behold” which is more of an introduction with a flourish!) – words we echo during the Holy Mass just prior to the distribution of Holy Communion.  John is not simply saying, “it’s not me, go look somewhere else.”  He actually points out the one who he says, ‘ranks ahead of me’. We are invited into this same attitude when it comes to Holy Mass or to our prayer lives.  If we are bored at Mass or prayer, perhaps it is because we put our preferences first, and the point of our prayer or celebration – Jesus – second.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has been quoted as saying, “If your prayer life is boring, you’re focusing on yourself, not Jesus, not the needy.”  

John, in acknowledging that Jesus is the one upon who the Spirit of God rests, immediately places himself in a subordinate role.  John is not the Son of God; but he is His messenger, and that role, that place ‘in the universe’ is more than enough – it is a place of friendship, of relationship, of trust and yes, even a place of honour. 

Putting the other ahead of ourselves is the Christian posture.  Acknowledging that Christ is the head, Christ is the priority, rather than our own desires, ambitions or preferences is the first step in a deep conversion experience.  John the Baptist provides us all with an example of how each of us can be open to molding or fashioning our lives more in keeping with the life of Christ;  he points to Jesus’ primacy, and bears witness – testifies- that Jesus is the Son of God, the centre of salvation history! 

Viewing our world through the lens of Jesus, rather than through the lens of popular culture or even personal desire, puts everything into perspective; when viewed in that way, we really see that Christ is the ‘centre of the universe’, not us. We can begin to see how Christ, reflected in others and reflected through our actions, truly illustrates where the centre of our world is. 

By placing Christ first, and placing ourselves second, we can truly find our own place, our place of honour as adopted children of God, in our world.  If we consider Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first; then ‘coming in second’ is not such a bad place to be.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!