1. Who Do People Say He Is?
3. What Are We Called to Do?
2. Recognition – Messiah: Title ; Sacrifice
3. Authority –Dependability – Rock
Gospel Text: Matthew 16:13-20
This is a difficult passage for us Catholics to meditate on because in our Church it is nearly always read with an apologetic purpose – to reinforce (or persuade others of) our faith in the primacy of the Pope and the infallibility of his teaching office. The apologetic purpose is important but in meditation we go further and discover in the text a message that will help us grow spiritually and experience the work of God in our lives.
The passage tells the story in three stages:
– verses 13 to 16, the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples leading to Peter’s confession;
– verses 17 to 19, Jesus bequeaths his authority to Peter;
– verse 20, conclusion: Jesus gives them “strict orders” not to tell anyone he is the Christ.
At all three stages we can focus either (a) on Jesus or (b) on those he relates with.
– Verses 13-16: Jesus is proclaimed to be “the Christ, the son of the living God”, but as always in the gospels we should not isolate him from our experience. The passage invites us to recognise in this incident similar experiences in our lives and in the lives of great people we have known – “anointed ones”, the “sons and daughters of the living God”.
So too we need not read the story of Jesus in a static way, as if he is settled in his identity. Once we choose to identify with his experience, we will naturally see him as making a journey to enter into his identity, and Peter as the one who affirms him on the way. This interpretation in no way takes away from Jesus’ divinity. It merely reminds us of the sacredness of the journey to self; we make the journey precisely because we are in the image and likeness of God.
Interpreted in this perspective, the question “who do people say the Son of Man is?” tells us where Jesus is in his life’s journey. Caesarea Philippi is a watershed moment in his life; he feels the need to clarify where he is – has he established himself? communicated his message? been who he is called to be? As always happens to us if we are honest in our self questioning as Jesus is, he is blessed to have someone like Peter, a “disciple”, affirm him as “the Christ, the son of the living God”.
Peter on the other hand is at the stage where he knows he must take a stand on the master he is following. He must answer from the truth of himself, not “who do people say he is?” but “who do I say he is?”. We celebrate the person (it may be an event or God himself in a moment of prayer) who brings us to the point where we have to affirm the “lordship” of Jesus or someone (a cause) in which he is incarnate.
– Verses 17-20: Here is another watershed moment in Jesus’ life, when he becomes conscious that he has found someone to whom he can hand over his mission. We experience similar moments when, as parents, teachers, friends, leaders of political parties or social movements, we realise with great joy that someone is going to carry on our work. Every aspect of Jesus’ words is significant:
– He feels deep humility, an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this is the work not of flesh and blood but of God.
– He feels unbounded confidence in the future. This person is a sure foundation, a “rock”, and “the gates of the underworld” will not “hold out” against him or her.
– He is very happy to hand over his authority, to give this person “the keys of the kingdom”. The authority is practical – it includes both “binding and loosing.”
– He does this handing over with confidence too; whatever decision the “disciple” takes will be “considered” ratified “in heaven”.
Looking back on similar moments in our lives we may find that the “Peter” we celebrated later disappointed us – lost the vision, betrayed us, turned out to be corrupt. The subsequent disappointment does not however take away from the sacredness of the original experience.
It is a wonderful moment for Peter too. He experiences himself as receiving a mandate to bind and to loose with the confidence that whichever decision he takes will be ratified in heaven.
– Verse 20: Here again we can focus on Jesus. He represents us when we realise that the truth of what we are about is something we can share only with our confidantes, not with everyone.
For the disciples it is the moment when they know with deep conviction (“gave them strict orders”) that they cannot reveal the revolutionary character of their leader or cause.
Scripture Prayer Reflection
“To have humility is to experience reality not in relation to ourselves but in its sacred independence.” …Dag Hammarskjold
Lord, many people today are drifting through life, unsure of their identity.
Remind them that your son Jesus too had to make the journey to being himself.
Send them humble companions like Simon Peter who will see them in their truth,
not replicas of anyone else, but your sons and daughters,
anointed by you for a particular mission in the world.
Lord, there was a time when we felt discouraged, wondering if our work was in vain.
Then we came to a place, our own Caesarea Philippi,
and we found that there were people who understood what we were about;
we knew at that moment that the cause we had given our lives for
was now on a solid foundation,
the forces of evil would not hold out against it,
and we could hand it over with confidence to our successors.
Lord, every once in a way you send us young people who are special to us
their teachers, parents or community leaders.
Whereas others have only a vague idea of the message we are trying to convey,
they understand it perfectly.
We experience them as a gift,
we know that it was not our hard work that revealed things to them;
it was you yourself who taught them.
Without being able to prove it, we know for certain that they will never fail us.
Thank you Lord, for these blessed ones.
“Under the pontificate of John Paul II the Church has discovered itself as a
companion in humanity’s pilgrimage, no longer a fortress under siege.” …Cardinal Koenig
Lord, we thank you that Jesus saw himself as a companion of his disciples.
He entered into dialogue with them,
asking them to share with him how they saw his mission.
Naturally they were surprised;
they were not accustomed to teachers who would relate to them like this,
and so they did not speak from their own conviction
but repeated what the learned people of the time were saying.
Jesus wanted them to share what was deep within them
because he knew that when people do that
it is not merely flesh and blood that is at work in them but you yourself.
And so their little community grew together,
built on the rock of trust and sharing a foundation so solid
that the gates of the underworld could never hold out against it.
“Slaves wrested God from their captors.” …Derek Walcott, Caribbean poet reflecting on a Third World culture finding itself
Lord, we thank you for sending us great artists who make us aware
that we have allowed others to keep us bound;
now we are set free and no power on earth can bind us again.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” …Emily Dickinson
Lord, we thank you for the wonderful gift of the sacrament of reconciliation.
We remember the times when the priest told us
that we were free from the bondage of our sins
and we knew that what was loosed there in the confessional
was loosed in your presence in heaven.
Lord, forgive us Church workers that we like to draw attention to ourselves,
arrogating to ourselves sacred titles like “prophet” or “anointed one”.
Help us to be humble like Jesus when he gave his disciples strict orders
not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Introduction to the Celebration
We have gathered here as the disciples of Jesus, we declare that he is present among us, we are about to share his table. But who is the One we follow? That is the question that is posed in today’s gospel, and we hear Peter’s resounding answer: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.‘ Let us spend a moment in prayer and reflection, asking the Father to reveal to us now a deeper awareness of who it is in whose name we have assembled and into whose presence we have come.
1. There are, at least, three different directions that a homily based on today’s gospel can go down:
First, the confession of who Jesus is, and then the homily focuses on christology;
Second, who/what the church is that was founded on the apostles, and then the homily focuses on ecclesiology; or
Third, the focus is on Peter and / or the keys, and the memory of Rome and the papacy, and then the homily will have an apologetics or ecumenics focus because this Petrine ministry is an aspect of the church that is not just disputed with the churches of the Reformation, but with the ancient churches of the East (e.g. the Greeks and the Syrians) and of Africa (e.g. the Copts and the Ethiopians).
1. The problem is that all three of these themes have to be given attention in today’s liturgy; but if you try to give all equal prominence, then you overload the whole system. More pointedly, if in a homily of 7 minutes, or less, you try to cover all of them, then you will probably fail to communicate anyone of them adequately. The nature of human communications decrees that you choose one of the three possible directions and focus on it in the homily, and then let the rest of the liturgy draw attention to the other themes (e.g. The Preface of the Apostles can draw attention to the apostolic nature of the church).
2. I am opting in the rest of these notes for the theme of christology. My reason for this choice is that there are likely to be many people in an average congregation with a defective understanding of who we believe Jesus to be, and sound doctrine on this core of Christian faith (as this gospel itself makes clear) is the presupposition of concerns with ecclesiology or ecumenics.
3. Let us begin, just as today’s gospel does, with a question. Who is Jesus? There are, of course, a raft of answers: some from those who dismiss him, some from those who are vaguely interested in him or in religion, and some from those who have encountered his message and have followed him in one way or another. It is this third group that are our concern. Jesus did not ask disciples an open question (e.g. what do you think people make of me? To which they might have replied: ‘Well, the Romans think you are just another Jewish hot head; while the priests in the temple think you are another heretic; while the followers think you are great!, but rather he asked them about who the followers – that is those who knew him as the Son of Man – thought he was. This is a question about the integrity of our belief and our preaching as his church.
4. The range of opinions (John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet) held by Jesus’s followers among those who first heard the gospel may be far closer to ways of viewing Jesus held in the average congregation today than you would expect!
5. The first position is that Jesus is another John the Baptist. Jesus was influenced by John; but while both proclaimed the closeness of the kingdom, they presented very different visions. John preached repentance, for the coming of the kingdom would be the great crunch when God would mete out his justice. Jesus came saying the kingdom was at hand when the Father would mete our forgiveness and mercy, and inaugurate the reign of peace and love. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and was criticised for this (Mt 9:10-11); John spent his time telling these people about the wickedness of their lives and warning them of the future retribution. Many then, and now, would prefer such a finger wagging, ‘Tell it to them straight,’ type of religious leader than the incarnation of the gentleness and forgiveness that is the Lord.
6. The second position is that Jesus is another Elijah. When we hear words like ‘lord’ we thing of a mighty leader who can march his men on to victory over opponents. If God is going to save his people, we sometimes imagine, the best way to do it would be with a great wonder-working person who can intervene, stop things happening, and get things moving. That was exactly how Elijah was remembered. When he took on the prophets of BaaI, they were roundly shown to be frauds through God’s power, gathered up and slaughtered’ and not one escaped’ (1 Kgs 18). This is a powerful type of saviour whom people must respect, and who shows who is really in charge. And, deep down, many of us would like Jesus, just now and then, to show the world just who is in charge. You may think this is not so; but consider the fact that the legend of St Patrick is based on him being another Elijah; while many private revelations (St Margaret Mary or Fatima) have elements of John the Baptist and Elijah bound up in them. But just as Matthew presents Jesus as very different to John, so also he presents him as very different to Elijah; at the moment of his arrest Jesus asks: ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’ Those who like an Elijah-style Christ would have had the twelve squadrons ‘buzz’ the scene, even if they do not go all the way and call in an airstrike!
7. The third position is that Jesus is just one more wise religious leader who calls or recalls people to the faith they already held. Jesus’s work was not just a ‘re-heating’ of the religious wisdom, but the establishment of a new community, a new covenant, a people intimate with the Father. Jesus is the ‘new wine’ (Mt 9:17) who has established the new relationship between us and the Father, and between us as sisters and brother.
8. This gentle, forgiving Christ offering us adoption by our loving Fatherm- so unlike the expectations of religious people then or now – is revealed to us, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father himself.
The people who knew Jesus, including some of his disciples, believed him to be a great prophet, such as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. But, when asked by Jesus to offer an opinion about his identity, Peter said: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt 16:16).
Jesus made clear that this was a particular grace from God which allowed Peter, from among all the apostles and disciples, to discern the true identity of Jesus. In this way, Peter announced his belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah who had come to deliver God’s people from the bondage of sin. Jesus was much more than a prophet, and Peter was divinely inspired to acknowledge this truth.
The public manifestation of Peter’s faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, was immediately rewarded by Christ who wanted Peter to know two facts.
First, he had been especially blessed by God in being given this knowledge.
Secondly, Peter was given a singularly important role in the infant Church: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven:
whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven’
Thus we find an instance of the Old Testament custom of changing names at a pivotal moment in the salvation history of the Chosen People. For example, in the case of Abraham, we read: ‘You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations’ (Gen 17:5). Similarly, regarding Jacob, we read: ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel’ (Gen 32:28).
Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (meaning rock), explaining that it would be upon the rock of Peter that the Church would be built. Just as the Father had given Peter special insight into the identity of Jesus, so Christ now delegated his own authority to Peter and his successors.
Interestingly, after giving authority to Peter, Jesus commanded his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. This command has been much debated because in other places in the gospels Jesus did not deny that he was the Messiah, most famously when speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus replied: I who am speaking to you, I am he’ (In 4:25).
There are several reasons why Jesus instructed Peter and the others to remain silent about his identity, not least to protect them from harm because, as subsequent verses indicate, they had not yet been prepared by Jesus for the persecutions to come. However, the important lesson for us in these verses is that here we are reminded of the supernatural origins of the papacy. Peter and those popes who followed him have their crucial leadership role in the Church by divine mandate.
Therefore, when the Pope speaks definitively (that is, finally) on matters of faith and morality, teaching something that must be held by all the faithful, Catholics are bound to obey and adhere to that teaching. This definite teaching need not always come in the form of a public pronouncement, but applies whenever the Pope is repeating teachings that have always been accepted by the Church from the earliest days. The Pope’s authority is limited, however, in that his office is one of guardianship. He is to guard, promote and teach the Christian faith but he is not authorised to add anything to it.
It is difficult being the Pope in the contemporary world when the teaching of Christ and the moral law often challenge modern fashions and trends. So let us pray for the Pope who is charged with upholding and defending the Church’s teachings.
Nothing but Jesus
We all need some statements like Peter’s that give a rock and a meaning to life, It gives us a clue of where we belong at deeper levels. We all need statements that express our faith in God. For Peter it was his faith in Jesus, the son of God. This would keep him going all of his life, even at times of unfaithfulness and danger. He could never forget that he had said, ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God’.
We might wonder who or what is a living God for us? Where we might put our basic trust? What is it that, if taken away, we would be lost without? We can give our lives to family, country, a political party, money. Some of these are worth our trust and some not so much.
We need the rock that Peter found in Jesus. He was called rock only because of his relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who calls forth our faith and love and gives our lives a huge meaning.
If s not that we have nothing but Jesus – if s that we can integrate all that is important in life within our trust in him. It is God who reveals Jesus to us.
We want to give this to our younger people ~ a rock they can stand on in life, which nothing can demolish. This is Jesus, and in him all is created.
FROM THE CONNECTIONS:
In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter’s confession of faith is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus will now concentrate on preparing his disciples to take on the teaching ministry and leadership of the Church he will establish.
The scene of today’s Gospel, Caesarea Philippi, was the site of temples dedicated to no less than 14 different pagan gods, ranging from the Syrian god Baal to Pan, the Greek god of nature. In the middle of the city was a great white temple built by Herod and dedicated to the “divinity” of Caesar (hence the name of the city). In the midst of this marketplace of gods and temples, Jesus first indicates his plans and hopes for his church.
Jesus “sets up” Peter’s declaration of faith by asking his disciples what people are saying about him. Many believed that Jesus is the reincarnation of John the Baptizer or the long-awaited return of the prophets Elijah or Jeremiah (Malachi 4: 5-6), whose return would signal the restoration of Israel. Simon Peter, however, has been given the gift of faith (“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you”) and unequivocally states that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus blesses Simon with the new name of “rock” (Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek), indicating that his faith will be the foundation for Jesus’ new Church. Peter is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven (an image drawn from Isaiah 22: 15-25, today's first reading) and the mission to bring sins to consciousness and to proclaim to sinners the love and forgiveness of God.
Peter is the first of the disciples to grasp the divinity of Christ. On the faith of Peter “the rock” Christ establishes his Church. Peter becomes, then, the first stone in the foundation of the Church. We who are baptized into the faith handed down to us by Peter and the apostles become stones of Christ’s new church; the faith we live and the hope we cherish in the empty tomb of Easter are the foundation of the Church of the Risen One.
The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” are entrusted by Christ not just to the institutional Church but to each one of us. Christ has given every one of us a “key” to the kingdom: the means to “unlock” the presence of God in our world by our own efforts, however small and hidden, to realize God’s love in our midst. Our “keys” may be patience and understanding, a talent or skill we possess that we can use to unlock a door or open a pathway enabling us and those we love and care about realize the kingdom of heaven here and now.
“The only thing I have to offer is my compassion,” she confided to her supervisor. “But now I wonder what my words can mean as I look at Sheila. It’s all overwhelming. I’m not sure I can keep doing this.”
Kelli’s supervisor understood; her doubts are an occupational hazard for doctors and nurses who treat the terminally ill.
But over the next month, Kelli had several opportunities to practice her “only” contribution.
Sheila was the 35-year-old mother of four whose husband, Michael, was a nurse at Kelli’s hospital. A persistent bout of “walking pneumonia” was finally diagnosed as metastic lung cancer. Sheila began a demanding protocol of chemotherapy. Sheila was able to share with Kelli the full range of emotions common to all who struggled with cancer: fear, anger, sadness, joy at small successes, and gratitude. Kelli’s innate kindness and approachability helped Sheila get through those difficult weeks.
Another of Kelli’s patients was being treated for a condition called bronchiectasis. Quite unexpectedly, his cough worsened and he went into respiratory distress, requiring him to be put on a ventilator. The poor man was terrified as the medical team went to work. Kelli stayed with him the whole time and explained every step of the procedure.
“Now, Mr. Bernard, I know this tube is uncomfortable, but we need it to help you breathe. Hold my hand. I’ll stay with you.” And she did until he was settled and comfortable in the intensive care unit.
Sheila’s husband, Michael, was on duty in ICU when Kelli and Mr. Bernard arrived.
Later in the day, at the end of rounds, Kelli and the other students were meeting with the supervising physician to review the day. During the conversation, Michael poked his head into the room.
“Is Sheila alright?” the doctor asked, fearing the worst.
Michael seemed shaken and didn’t speak for a long time.
“I just wanted to tell you,” he began, “all of you, how much Sheila and I appreciate the care she’s getting. It’s not just the medical stuff. I mean that’s important, and we know she’s getting the best medical treatment available. But’s it’s the way you take care of her — and me — that makes it so different.”
He then turned to Kelli. “I was watching you hold that man’s hand. I listened as you talked to him and I tell you, do you know how long it’s been since I’ve held anyone’s hand in there, or thought about how it must feel to be on one of those things . . . I want you to know, Kelli, that you, and each of you, have reminded me of something I had long forgotten. And I won’t forget again to comfort those I take care of.”
Sometimes compassion — the only thing we can offer — is the most important and remembered gift we give.
[From “Regaining Compassion” by James W. Lynch, Jr., M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association, May 13, 1998.]
Kelli has learned that compassion is the “rock” of her work as a physician. It is on that same “rock” that Jesus establishes his church, a community of men and women whose lives mirror the love, peace and justice of God. In taking on God’s work of reconciliation, in our struggle to forgive selflessly and humbly, in our often less-than-successful attempts to imitate the compassion of Jesus, our church and parish reflect the face of God to our world.
Fr. Jude Botelho:
In the first reading, God promises to give the keys of the house of David to Eliakim with full authority over his royal household. Eliakim was among the leaders in Jerusalem during the critical Assyrian siege. Here he succeeds Shebnah to the office of chief steward. He will hold the ‘key of the house of David’. In the Biblical world, officials were invested with keys as a sign of stewardship and power. In the New Testament the text is applied to Jesus. Peter is given the keys of the kingdom. God shares His power with those whom he chooses.
Search and you may find…
Late one evening Jerry lost the key of his moneybox and went down on fours looking for it outside. His neighbours joined him in searching under streetlights until all were exhausted. “Where did you lose the key?” asked a concerned friend. “Inside my house,” replied Jerry. “Then why look for it outside?” “Because,” explained Jerry, “there is more light outside than inside my house!” We often look for keys in wrong places and, ironically, the key to understand today’s readings is a key: of the House of David in the first reading and of the kingdom of heaven in the gospel. On April 24, 2005, at his installation as Pontiff, Benedict XVI described himself as “weak servant of God” showing deep awareness of being servant of servant. Likewise, on Oct. 22, 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry he said, “Open wide the doors for Christ!” It is heartening that those who hold the keys are aware of their responsibility to serve and open Church doors for the Spirit’s action. Have we been given the key to the kingdom of God?
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
In today’s world, we have a glut of opinion polls especially around election times. These opinion polls show the variety and often contradictory views people can have about particular issues or personality. In the gospel we have an example of an early opinion poll conducted by Jesus himself. Though it was a limited one, it concerned a vital question, namely the identity of Jesus. ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ Jesus knew who he was. The question was for the benefit of the disciples. In his time, the question was on everybody’s lips: Who is this man Jesus? The question echoes through the entire gospel. Jesus rejected the inadequate answers of others and demanded that the disciples speak for themselves: “And you, who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter answered. All of us as believers have to give our personal answer to that question. A person cannot be baptized without a profession of faith. The more people we have in the Church who believe out of personal conviction, the more the Church will be founded on rock. The profession of faith is only the beginning. We must live our faith. We must allow our lives to be shaped by our faith. Peter is the centre of today’s gospel, he is the leader but he has his weaknesses and faults. He denied Jesus, He did not fall simply because he was weak. He fell because he felt he was strong. In giving authority to a man who denied him, Jesus showed that he was establishing his Church not on human strength, but on his own love and faithfulness. God does not choose perfect people to do his work. God chooses people who are flawed, but nevertheless have the capacity for greatness and holiness. Peter’s story helps us to understand ourselves and shows us how to develop a close relationship with Jesus.
How to have a God-experience?
A young boy approached an enlightened person and asked him what he must do to have a God-experience. The enlightened one closed his eyes and remained silent for some time. The young man asked again, “What must I do to have a God experience?” The enlightened one opened his eyes smiled at him and closed his eyes again. The young man in his restlessness repeated his question a third time. Now the enlightened one opened his eyes, smiled at the young man and told him, “I told you twice. Seek the Lord in the silence of your heart and you will have a God-experience. The closed eyes help you only to open your inner eyes to see God enthroned in your heart. The atmosphere of external silence is only an attempt to experience inner silence. Once you open the cave of your heart with the keys of inner silence and deeper awareness you stand face to face with God.”
Robert D’Souza in ‘The Sunday Liturgy’
She may not know but I know…
Every day Tim would go to the nursing home and visit her. And each time Tim would explain who he was and why he was visiting. He would tell the story of his children and grandchildren, all the activities and all the news of his family. And while he was feeding her lunch each day, he would gently remind her that he was married for 52 years to the same woman and that woman was her. Then each time she would smile brightly as if told for the first time. That woman was Margaret, and Margaret suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she moves in and out of reality. Tim tends to her each and every day before he leaves, he caresses her gently, kisses her and tells her that he loves her dearly, knowing well, that tomorrow he will have to repeat the whole routine over and over again. His friends plead with Tim as to why he continues to put himself through this. They tell him, “She does not even know who you are anymore.” And he would always respond in the same way, “But I know who I am.” Do I know Jesus? Do I know who I am?
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’
Who is Jesus?
During the Second World War, in his famous BBC Radio talk- ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S. Lewis said, “I am trying to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him: “I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg –or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make a choice. Either this man was, or is the Son of God; or else a man or something worse.” If we accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, then we must necessarily accept Him as god, for great moral teachers do not tell lies. One person who fascinates and baffles everyone –both believers and non-believers, is Jesus Christ. One is surprised by the simple life of Jesus, and the tremendous impact He had on history.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’
One Solitary Life
Jesus was born in a manger, in a simple carpenter’s family; He never went to school, nor attended college; He never wrote a book. Until the age of thirty he was a village carpenter. At thirty he became a nomadic preacher; but he never travelled more than 200 miles from the place of his birth. When he was thirty-three years old, public opinion turned against him; He was betrayed by his friend and deserted by the others. He was unjustly condemned to death and was nailed as a criminal between two thieves. When he died, they laid him in a borrowed tomb. Twenty centuries have come and gone. Till today he is the central figure of history. No library is complete without his biography. All ages and dates are numbered from His birth; He never led an army, never held a gun; but all the armies that ever marched and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of a man on this earth like that ONE SOLITARY LIFE.
8. "But how did the other ear get burned?":
On Sunday morning, a man showed up at Church with both his ears terribly blistered, so his pastor asked, "WHAT happened to YOU?" "I was lying on the couch watching a ball game on TV while my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she went out, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone rang, and keeping my eyes on the TV, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my ear." "How dreadful," gasped the pastor. "But how did the other ear get burned?" "Well, you see, I'd no sooner hung up and the guy called back!" He just didn't get it. Lots of folks never get it, never understand how life really works, even at the simplest levels. That's why Jesus is pressing his followers — and us — so insistently in today’s Gospel: "Do you understand who I am," he asks, "and what my being here means for you?" (Msgr. Dennis Clarke)
Three of the clergy—a Lutheran, a Catholic, and an Episcopalian—ended up at the Pearly Gates one day. It was St. Peter’s day off, so Jesus was administering the entrance exam. “The question is simple,” he said. “Who do you say that I am?" The Lutheran stepped forward and began, “The Bible says . . . ” but Jesus interrupted and said, “I know what the Bible says; who do you say that I am?” The Lutheran said, “I don’t know,” and fell through a trap-door to that other place. The Catholic stepped forward and began, “The Pope says . . . ” But Jesus interrupted him and said, “I know what the Pope says; who do you say that I am?” “I’m not sure,” said the Catholic, and promptly fell through the trap-door to that other place. Jesus turned to the Episcopalian and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” The Episcopalian replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" Then, just as Jesus smiled and gestured for the Pearly Gates to be opened, the Episcopalian continued, “but on the other hand..."
He looked at his disciples and in a moment of reflection said: "Who do men say that I am?" The disciples begin sharing with Jesus what they have heard from the people who have been following Jesus: Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. It's always been this way, Jesus as seen by the masses is seen in so many different ways.
You can speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people will line up to express their disapproval.
Who do people say he is? Who do you say he is? And what are we called to do? Let's take a look at the answers to these three questions...
The family decided to help the second butterfly so that it would not have to go through such an excruciating ordeal. So, as it began to emerge, they carefully sliced open the cocoon with a razor blade, doing the equivalent of a Caesarean section. The second butterfly never did sprout wings, and in about ten minutes, instead of flying away, it quietly died.
The family asked a biologist friend to explain what had happened. The scientist said that the difficult struggle to emerge from the small hole actually pushes liquids from deep inside the butterfly's body cavity into tiny capillaries in the wings where they hardened to complete the healthy and beautiful adult butterfly. The lesson? WITHOUT THE STRUGGLE, THERE ARE NO WINGS.
The last competition was the marathon. Greece's entrant was named Louis, a shepherd without competitive background. He'd trained alone in the hills near his flock. When the race started, Louis was far back in the pack of marathoners. But as the miles passed he moved up steadily. One by one the leaders began to falter. The Frenchman fell in agony. The hero from the United States had to quit the race. Soon, word reached the stadium that a lone runner was approaching the arena, and the emblem of Greece was on his chest! As the excitement grew, Prince George of Greece hurried to the stadium entrance where he met Louis and ran with him to the finish line.
In this sports tale we have something of the history of the human race. Most historical figures make their impact, achieve a measure of fame, books are written about them, but as the years go by they begin to fade. Less and less is written or spoken of their lives until they rest in relative obscurity.
With Jesus Christ, however, one finds quite an opposite phenomena! Christ started from way back in the pack. He was born in relative obscurity, never had many followers, commanded no army, erected no edifices, wrote no books. He died young, was buried in a borrowed grave, and you'd think he'd be quickly forgotten.
But, no! His reputation has grown so that today he is worshiped on every continent, has more followers than ever before, sixteen times has his picture been on the cover of Time magazine, and his sayings have been translated into more than 200 languages.
In that same article Steinberg tells about a small disc on the Meades Ranch in north central Kansas where the thirty-ninth parallel from the Atlantic to the Pacific crosses the ninety-eighth meridian running from Canada to the Rio Grande. The National Oceanic Survey, a small federal agency whose business it is to locate the exact positions of every point in the United States, uses the scientifically recognized reference point on the Meades Ranch. So far, no mistakes have been made, and none are expected. All ocean liners and commercial planes come under the survey. The government can build no dams or even launch a missile without this agency to tell it the exact location to the very inch. "Location by approximation," the article goes on to say, "can be costly and dangerous."
That's why there is so much chaos in our society today. Everyone's using their own reference point. What we need is a universal reference point so that we can say, "Here. Here is how the good life is lived."
For Christians there is such a reference point - and that is Jesus. What would Jesus do? That is the question that continually helps us in our quest for right living. Jesus not only revealed the character of God but he also patterned the ideal life for humanity.
It has been pointed out that the Church is always one generation from extinction. If we don't spread the Gospel, it will be just one generation away from disappearing from the face of the earth. It's a compelling idea, isn't it? It enhances our sense of Christian responsibility. We need to get out there and work for the Gospel or the Church could fade into history.
The Messianic hope of those in the Jewish community who held such a belief was that the Chosen One would reestablish the supremacy of Israel among the great nations of the world. The assumption was that this would be accomplished in a violent and vengeful manner, with the forceful overthrow and total destruction of the current ruling powers. But before this happened, the prophet Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Chosen One. As a result of these hopes, Jesus had to somehow communicate to his disciples and others who had such high hopes for him that what he was offering was something completely different from what they expected.
Irom Sharmila of Imphal India fasting last 14 years and force fed through tubes by the Govt fighting for a cause - against extra ordinary powers to the military.
Lata Tare of Baramati, MH, India ran at a marathon beating all experienced and well clad young runners. She was 61, grand mother, wearing a Maharashtrian 9 yard saree, no shoes or sandals. She needed the money for her husband's surgery. She didn't care for the trophy.
Yellavva from Yadgir Dt of Karnataka-400 Km north of Bangalore was 9 nine pregnant with her first child. Her village was totally marooned by flood waters. No ferries, no road connections. She tied pumpkin and other gourd pods on her body for floatation and buoyancy and swam 1 km across 14 feet deep waters and reached a hospital to give birth.
Ramesh Ramanathan is the founder of Bangalore based NGO Janagraha. Studied in US with his wife. Cycling at night from class to pick up his wife working at a McDonald's. They both resigned the jobs to come and work for people.