12th. Sunday of Year (C)
(Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24)
The events mentioned in today’s Gospel reading can hardly be said to have been ‘introduced’ by St. Luke, for he says nothing more than:
Once, when Jesus was praying in solitude ...
But, of course, that is the whole point! Luke did not particularly want to inform us where Jesus was at that time or what He was doing; above all he desired to draw our closest attention to the fact of Jesus’ prayer which was most important for this evangelist who regularly took care to highlight its divine potential and to outline the sublimely mysterious aura associated with it. And in that, of course, he was absolutely correct because such prayer was of the very essence of Jesus’ life and mission here on earth:
My doctrine is not Mine but His who sent Me…. I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.... The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him. (John 7:16; 8:26, 29)
In our first reading taken from the prophet Zechariah the Lord God said:
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition;
and that prophecy received its ultimate fulfilment with the coming of God’s Son on earth -- born of Mary of the house of David -- to live among God’s People and serve God’s redeeming purpose. And it could well have been that the prayer of Jesus at this very moment chosen by St. Luke was indeed prayer for a spirit of grace and petition to be given God’s People and, most especially, to be bestowed on the twelve Apostles with Him on this occasion; for, turning to them He said:
‘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.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said in reply, ‘The Christ of God.’
The divine potential and power of Jesus’ prayer, demonstrated by those words of Peter, was -- according to St. Matthew’s parallel account – openly acknowledged by Jesus when He said that Peter’s answer was indeed a most gracious gift from His Father:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
Knowing, or rather, believing that Jesus was the Christ of God, Peter and the disciples were feeling a confidence and trust similar to that of which St. Paul speaks in his letter to the Romans (8:31):
If God is for us, who can be against us?
For, as it would seem from scholars’ endeavours to ‘calibrate’ Jesus’ life on earth, the Twelve disciples had recently witnessed and experienced most wonderful manifestations of their Lord’s power and the authenticity of His mission. They had recently been sent out by Him to proclaim the kingdom of God with power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases; and the success of their mission had set all the people talking about Jesus, and had even captured the attention of Herod Antipas: Who is this about whom I hear such things? Indeed, so interested or concerned had Herod become that he even tried to meet Jesus. The Apostles, again, had recently seen Jesus multiply bread (5 loaves and 2 fish) to feed more than 5,000 persons; He had walked on water before their very eyes, and had performed miraculous healings for many individuals; and then, they may have witnessed yet another miraculous feeding of a multitude, this time some 4,000 people being nourished and sustained at His bidding. Peter’s words confessing Jesus as the Christ of God expressed the exuberant feelings of all of the Apostles, Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Messiah of God!!
The disciples having thus been both enlightened and confirmed in their faith in Him, Jesus was able to proceed immediately -- though not without a vigorous admonition (He rebuked!) -- and reveal to them what was soon to befall Himself:
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.”
Once again, with such words, He mysteriously fulfilled what the prophet had foretold:
They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.
Had the apostles, however, rightly understood the exact meaning and significance of what Peter had been inspired to say?
You are the Messiah/Christ of God!
The only other words that give us exactly the same meaning are also to be found in St. Luke, in his account of the presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple by Mary. There, Luke (2:26) says of Simeon, the priest who took the Child in his arms:
It had been revealed to him that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.
‘The Messiah’, was an expression used when speaking of the hopes of the devout in Israel who were longing for the coming of God’s salvation, and ‘the Christ’, ‘the Son of God’, are other expressions readily to hand in our New Testament scriptures; but ‘The Messiah/Christ of God’ and its equivalent, ‘The Lord’s Messiah/Christ’, stand alone and as one in their perfect clarity.
Jesus, Who at the inauguration of His Public Ministry had had to rebuff the Devil’s temptations on this issue, was most desirous now that His apostles should recognize and believe in Him as the Christ of God, the Messiah sent by Israel’s God, and not allow themselves to be led astray by any subsequent endeavours of Satan to derail His work which must soon, and of necessity, be able to endure, deepen, grow, and extend through their Apostolic proclamation of His Gospel so as to become Jesus’ Church for the whole of mankind and for all ages. They had to know Him truly, and unshakeably believe in Him, not simply as the Christ – subject to whatever inevitable human misinterpretations -- but as:
The Christ of God! The Lord’s Messiah!
How truly wonderful it is that here we can now recognize the beautiful harmony evidenced by Jesus’ ardent prayer for a spirit of grace and petition on behalf of His apostles, by His Father’s words of inspiration bestowed on Peter, and by the promise of the Holy Spirit given to Simeon of old!!
That the apostles might be enabled and prepared to proclaim, not the Messiah of popular expectation, but the Christ of God’s salvation, Jesus sought to impress upon their minds and fix in their memories – He rebuked them! – the truth and the hope they would have to demonstrate and promote in the face of bitter opposition and the excesses of exuberance and depression among their own followers:
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.
Then, to show clearly that He was warning against, and warding off, all subsequent popular misconceptions concerning the Christ, the Saviour, to come:
He said to ALL, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.’
People of God, St. Luke wanted to help us recognize the sublime secret of Jesus: communion with, prayer to, and trust in, His Father. Any manifestation and proof of that relationship and bond was always an occasion of supreme blessing ... and we, His present-day disciples, must appreciate that without ourselves being, in like manner, able to turn confidently to the Father, that without such humble prayer and filial communion with Him, we cannot come to a personal knowledge of Jesus our Lord, or be able to truly appreciate, embrace, and further, His will to save us and all mankind.
Moreover, as we consider Luke’s account of Jesus’ experience of the Cross, we are inevitably struck by His compassionate and monumental silence, and are led once again to a realization that prayer to His Father was the ultimate medium for Jesus’ self-expression and self-fulfilment, indeed, it was the very root of His Being during those hours of total torment. Consequently, our personal conformity to and enduring union with Him will surely find its due measure of fullness and authenticity only to the extent in which we are willing to embrace our own sufferings in His way, as His most faithful Apostle St Paul penetratingly realized, personally embraced, and inspiringly proclaimed (Phil. 3:8-11):
I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. … knowing Him …. and sharing His sufferings by being conformed to His death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
And here, dear People of God, we must recognize and respond to the devil’s great endeavours now being made in these our days to rob us of, or at least, divert us from Jesus’ truth.
For Our Blessed Lord, became Man not simply to:
Open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin,
as we heard in our first reading from the prophet Zechariah, but in order to redeem the whole of mankind from servitude to sin and death, and He began and defined His public ministry, as you well know, by calling for repentance from Israel. What sort of repentance? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What sins? Of that we must be absolutely clear and unshakeably firm.
At a time when Israel appeared rotten from top to bottom Elijah was sent to King Ahab and indeed to Jezebel his bloody and Baal-worshipping consort, with these words:
Because you have given yourself up to doing what is evil in the Lord’s sight, I am bringing evil upon you: I will destroy you! (1 Kings 21: 20s.)
Indeed, no one gave himself up to the doing of evil in the sight of the Lord as did Ahab, urged on by his wife Jezebel. (ibid. v.25)
Evil in Israel was determined according to, and judged by, God’s word. In the Greek and Roman world, evil was thought of and debated on in accordance with what sinful, though serious, philosophers thought. In our modern world evil is thought and spoken of largely in terms determined in accordance with the chosen policies of self-serving governments and ever present popular ‘slogan’ ethics (for everything must be popular!) based on modern rationalist thinking originally trumpeted abroad by the French Revolution.
Dear fellow Catholics and Christians, we must remember that our vocation is to proclaim, and in our words and by our way of life bear witness-to, the saving Gospel of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. That is our supreme calling.
Sanctify Christ Jesus as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
And for that end we should not easily allow ourselves to be called on or provoked into discussions or arguments with people who do not wish to hear that Good News; nor in speaking calmly with them should we allow ourselves to be limited to the use of their terminology.
Those recently murdered in Orlando, for example, were victims of a vile crime, but to call them ‘innocents’ to be compared with school-children slaughtered elsewhere is not terminology I as a Catholic priest am willing to accept or discuss. Certain public, ‘governmental’ words, such as ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ are seized upon time and time again and applied to all sorts of incidents or crimes with seemingly, at times, little motive or justification other than to stir up public feeling against whatever is being targeted. What used to be commonly understood and accepted as semi-jocular expressions (‘an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Welshman were once talking together in a pub …’ type of thing) are now labelled as ‘racist’ and consequently said to be deeply offensive and hurtful-harmful in possibly numberless ways.
Therefore, we must recognize that today words are very often and most deceitfully used as weapons – especially by politicians and protagonists, who are specialists in words! -- and we must be very careful whose words we accept, what hidden meaning they may not only be carrying but be loaded with, and for what particular purpose they are being used.
Dear People of God, words have meanings and we cannot condone or accept the use of Catholic words and terminology with other than their Catholic and Christian meaning. For a Catholic-Christian God’s word, Jesus’ Gospel, and Mother Church’s unfolding and explanation of Jesus’ teaching, determine definitively what is sin and what is sinful, what does or can serve a good purpose, and what cannot. ‘Marriage’, for example, ‘husband and wife’, ‘adultery’ are not indeterminate words to be discussed, bandied about and changed at popular whim. Jesus was and is God’s Word made flesh and we should treasure those words He Himself used and which His Church teaches in His Name, with reverence, love, humility, and commitment, always remembering Jesus’ admonition:
Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it!
Words are often used to climb the slippery pole of success in the world. They can, however, also be a most humble and courageous witness to our love of Jesus.