Friday, September 24, 2010

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every thing under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

What advantage has the worker from his toil?
I have considered the task that God has appointed
for the sons of men to be busied about.
He has made everything appropriate to its time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts,
without man's ever discovering,
from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
Today we have a well-known passage which was even the subject of a popular ‘hit’ song some years ago.

It is part of a longer passage whose overall theme is death, the inevitable end of every life. Life here is presented as equally divided between things which bring pleasure and sadness, comfort and pain. Each has its own ‘time’ slot, so to speak, and we have little control over one or the other.

Our occupations - some bringing joy, others pain - are overshadowed by the inevitable end in death. Death casts its shadow on life, which is a series of contradictory acts, some of them listed here, but all end in the meaninglessness of death. We are subject to times and changes over which we have little or no control. Only one thing remains supreme - the all-knowing and all-loving God. We are totally in his hands and the sooner we realise that the happier we will be.

At the end the Teacher says that, although we can try to see meaning in individual events as they unfold, we can be mistaken and the overall direction of the world is totally beyond us. God’s world is simply too big for us to grasp. “God’s beautiful but tantalising world is too big for us, yet its satisfactions are too small. Since we were made for eternity, the things of time cannot fully and permanently satisfy.”

The New Testament keeps reminding us that we “have here no lasting city”. We are pilgrims passing through. We have no permanence in this world. The important goal is not to be reached here, because it does not, cannot exist. The ultimate goal is beyond this life.*
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Psalm 144
Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
my mercy and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
My shield, in whom I trust.
Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
LORD, what is man, that you notice him;
the son of man, that you take thought of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days, like a passing shadow.
Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
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Luke 9:18-22
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"
They said in reply, "John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, 'One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'"
Then he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter said in reply, "The Christ of God."
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised."
After the incident concerning Herod, which, as we saw, is a pointer to things yet to happen, the disciples return from their mission. What follows is omitted from our readings. In fact, Jesus took them to a quiet place where they could rest and reflect on what they had been doing. However, they were pursued by the ever-hungry crowds and Jesus fed them with the Word of God, with his healing and finally, through his disciples (”You give them to eat”) with bread and fish. The story is another step in the Twelve’s involvement in the mission of Jesus and it leads into today’s reading.

We find Jesus praying alone. As we have already seen, it is something that Luke mentions a number of times about Jesus and especially before significant events in his public life. Some people might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question could reveal a rather limited idea of prayer, e.g. as something you do when you want to get something from God or when you are depressed or in trouble of some kind.

But prayer is ultimately getting in touch with God and that is something that Jesus would surely want to do a lot. Prayer is also a way of discovering just where God’s will enters one’s life and that is something that was always of supreme importance to Jesus. “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus, we are told, was not altogether alone. His disciples were with him. Were they praying too? Later, they will ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

All of this is Luke’s introduction to a high point in all the Synoptics: the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. From the other Synoptics we know that it took place at Caesarea Philippi, a mixed Jewish-Gentile region outside Herod’s territory.

“Whom do people say that I am?” Jesus asks them. They give various answers: John the Baptist (resurrected) or Elijah, expected to return to announce the imminent coming of the Messiah, or some other of the earlier great prophets.

But then he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, answering for all of them, replies simply: “The Christ of God.” “Christ” is not a name but a title. It comes from the Greek christos which means “anointed”. And Christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. The anointing indicates someone who is king and, in this case, the One who is anointed the Saviour King of Israel.

In short, Peter is saying that the man standing before him is the long-awaited Saviour of the Jewish people. It is a dramatic development in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.

His next words at first sight seem unexpected and contradictory. He strictly orders his disciples not to say anything of this to anyone. Surely they should be doing the exact opposite? But the people are not yet ready for this revelation. They have a very limited and preconceived idea of what the coming of the Messiah will mean. They see him in very political terms as a kind of national liberator who will drive out and destroy the Romans and all enemies of the Jewish people and restore the past glories of Israel.

Even after the Resurrection Luke has Jesus’ own disciples them asking him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Their ideas, even at this late date, are no different from the ordinary people’s. At this point in the Gospel, they must be secretly proud that they, of all people, are the first to be privileged with this information.

If that was the case, they were very quickly to be disillusioned. Almost immediately Jesus goes on to say that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed and raised on the third day”.

This is the first time in Luke that Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”. It occurs 81 times in the four gospels and is only used by Jesus of himself. In the book of Daniel (7:13-14) we see the ‘Son of Man’ pictured as a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and sovereign power. Jesus’ use of the title in a Messianic sense is made clear by its close proximity to Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the ‘Christ’.

We know from Matthew and Mark that the disciples - in particular Peter - were dumbfounded when they heard Jesus’ words and wanted to reject them entirely. It was totally against all their expectations of the Messiah, apart from the fact that they could not bear to have those things happen to their Master.

To them, it simply did not make any sense. First, Jesus as Messiah was going to be rejected and handed over by the leaders of their own people. Secondly, he was going to go through a terrible and humiliating death. His “being raised” on the third day - whatever that meant - did little to alleviate their confusion.

But, as Mark indicates, this was a further step in their relationship with Jesus. They now recognised him as the Messiah but now they had to learn just what kind of Messiah he was going to be and how he was going to liberate not only his own people but people all over the world.

We, too, of course, have to keep going through the same process. We have to deepen our understanding of the true identity of Jesus and we have to be able to understand how the suffering and dying Messiah is not only the way he needed to go to reconcile us with God but that we too have to be ready to go the same way. We have to learn to see the redemptive and healing power in the pains, sufferings, disappointments and failures of our lives.*

The Irish Jesuits

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