"Moses said to YHWH, "But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant." Ex 4:10
Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: The BIG Question! What Is Your Turning Point! Politicians in most countries seem to always be getting into trouble for what they say. The media people are quick to give everything a particular spin depending on the lens through which they hear the politician speak. Jesus could have used a spin-person or speechwriter or marketing manager to help him draw and keep followers. A good spin person would have advised Jesus not to say what he did say to his disciples. Mark in his gospel (8:27-35) records Jesus' speech at Caesarea Philippi; "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and to be put to death ..." If you want to be popular with people you don't tell them that you are going to be rejected by their religious leaders and then put to death. Jesus goes on to say that, "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves and take up their cross and follow me." You will also not attract people by telling them they too must be willing to deny themselves and lose their lives. Jesus was talking about sacrificial caring for people outside of our immediate circle, even our enemies. The chances are that with this type of message Jesus would not make him popular and even misunderstood. There are some people like St. Peter, seem to think we don't have to face the reality of "bad news." People today prefer a soft popular gospel of just have faith in Jesus and life will be wonderful and you will prosper - but only if you have faith. But when we try to understand the good news Jesus offers we must also face the bad news that exists in our lives and in our world, which he calls our attention to. The disciples has seen a lot of good news in Jesus' cures. At first it looked and sounded like the answer to 'every need' which was just what they wanted. Peter must have said with enthusiasm, "You are the Christ" in answer to Jesus' question to him "Who do YOU say I am?" Peter most likely was thinking that Jesus would be the liberator of Israel. Wouldn't that be good news? St. Peter went from right answer to wrong response. First St. Peter speaks from a God-centred angle and then changes to a human outlook. He is yet to be able to see past his own ego centred and limited vision of the mission of Jesus - which will ultimately be his own. Jesus rejects that notion of political Messiah. He speaks about suffering, about gaining life by losing life. There's something to ponder over: how can you gain life by losing? I suspect parents who have sacrificed so much for their children would have an answer to that question. Peter can't accept the idea of Jesus, a Messiah, who was going to suffer. He calls him "the Christ." The term 'Messiah' isn't a name but a title. The word Christ meant Messiah (the anointed one) which could in some contexts mean, a king or high priest. But for the ancient Jewish people it always meant 'the victorious one' the liberator. People at the time did not make a prediction of suffering for a Messiah. When St. Peter says "You are the Christ" what his answer leaves out is, You are God's 'compassion' the word which means "to suffer with." What the Scriptures consistently revealed is that God is like the grieving parent feeling compassion for us even becoming one of us and sharing our suffering. God was moved to extremes for us, the way a parent will do anything even suffer for a child in trouble. In another place it says, "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only begotten son" (John 3:16). Peter professes, "You are the Christ (Messiah)." It's not enough. It doesn't describe the reality that Jesus is; God's compassion in the flesh. God on our side. Emmanuel, God-with-us. God willing to suffer for us. At times like St. Peter, I want a saviour who is triumphant, all powerful and ruling from a throne. This type of saviour will be able like superman save me from all suffering. However, I have a 'saviour' who through his choices for justice and healing for the poor and disadvantages was crucified by selfish power driven people. The Holy Spirit is leading me to want and accept a saviour who is capable of being with me in my suffering and with the suffering of the world. I need a saviour who is capable of supporting me when I'm trying to do the right thing and it hurts and costs dearly. Choosing to live a good life of generous selfless service will require of me sacrifice. So, Jesus is with me when I chose the cross of selfless service that asks for my life in his name. "For whoever wishes to come after me must deny self, take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life my sake and that of the gospel, will save it." St. Peter could not get his head around the idea of a leader/liberator who would suffer. He could not without the help of the Holy Spirit understand that there is no crown without the cross. There is no 'good news' without facing the 'bad news' in the world and trying to do something about it. Our Eucharist is our praise and thanksgiving for the Christ who faced the bad news of the world for us. Our Eucharist is his sacred meal of liberation and love which gives us strength to turn bad news into good news. Our place at the altar-table (sacrifice and nourishment) is about celebrating justice and receiving his promised life for us and in us. We "gain life, by losing life" Jesus said. In the face of 'bad news' that should be 'good news'. I suppose understanding this depends on how we answer the question Jesus us all; "Who do YOU say I am?"
Along the way Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ . . .”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
This week's reading is quite interesting and even a bit odd. It shows how Our Lord teaches those who believe in Him and is quick to correct those who follow when their human thinking gets in the way.
Caesar Philippi was a bazaar of worship places and temples, with altars erected to every concept of the divinity from the gods of Greece to the godhead of Caesar. Amid this marketplace of gods, Jesus asks Peter and the Twelve, “Who do people say that I am? . . . Who do you say that I am?”This is a turning point in Mark's Gospel:Until now, Mark's Jesus has been reluctant to have people believe in him only because of his miracles.Jesus talks, for the first time in Mark’s Gospel, about dark things ahead: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (concepts that the disciples are unable to grasp).
In this incident (recorded by all three synoptics), Peter immediately confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah -- the Messiah of victory and salvation. But when Jesus begins to speak of a Messiah who will suffer rejection and death, Peter objects. Peter’s reaction is ours, as well:We prefer to follow the popular, happy Jesus, the healing and comforting Jesus – but we back away from the suffering, humble, unsettling Jesus of the cross.
Every moment we live, every decision and choice we make, every good thing we do is our most revealing and telling response to the question, Who do you say I am? Our love for family and friends, our commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards, our willingness to take the first step toward reconciliation and forgiveness are, ultimately, our true confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Love and Word of God incarnate.
Only in “denying ourselves” in order to imitate the servanthood of Christ do we experience the true depth of our faith; only in embracing his compassion and humility
in our lives do we enable the Spirit of God to renew and transform our world in God’s life and love.
We cannot belong to the company of Jesus unless we embrace the Crucified One’s spirit of selfless servanthood; we cannot stand with the Crucified Jesus unless we unconditionally and completely love and forgive others as he did; we cannot hope to share in the victory of the Risen Christ unless we "crucify" our fears, self-consciousness and prejudices that blind us from seeing him in the faces of every human being.
So my friends, I stand here before you at this pulpit and my question is to you and of course for me today...Who do you say that Jesus is? Of course, he is the Christ. But what does that mean to you? Do you want a Jesus for anything other than what he is? Are you looking for Jesus the healer? Who will always cure your diseases? Are you looking for Jesus the therapist? Who will help you work out all your “issues”? Are you seeking Jesus the job-provider, Jesus the child-rearing-advice-giver, Jesus the marriage counsellor, a Jesus who comes to simply solve your problems and answer your questions? Then you will not find him.
But in his word, and in his sacraments, you will find Jesus who is the Christ. And a Christ of the cross. A Jesus who suffered and died, for your forgiveness, a Jesus who rose from death to guarantee you life, a Jesus who ascended to heaven to rule for you there, and a Jesus who will come again to bring final victory and peace. A Jesus on his terms, not ours. A Jesus who deals with sin, the root of all our other problems. A Christ that we need, not that we think we want.
Nor do we come to this answer on our own. It is God who shows us, leads us, and brings us to faith by his Spirit. He gives the answer that we confess. We confess, like Peter, in our words, who Jesus is and what he has done. “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, was buried, descended into Hell, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at God’s right hand, and one day will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Asking the right question is important. So is getting the right answer.
“Who is Jesus?” “He is the Christ.” “What kind of Christ?” “A Christ of the Cross – a Saviour from sin – your saviour and mine.” Good questions, and good answers – all given by God.
“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:
Openness Can Cure Our Deafness.
An essential part of being healed - that is feeling whole is the sense of belonging. Belonging within nature. Belonging to one another. Belonging in our own skin. This weekend we encounter Jesus healing a deaf man. The story comes straight after Jesus has healed the Syrophenician woman’s daughter. Mark (7: 31-37) starts his gospel account with what sounds like, a little a geography lesson or travel log. “Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.” The gospel is not about site seeing; but about seeing God. Jesus who is traveling on foot, travels to Galilee, going by way of Sidon would take him fare out of his way. Jesus has a purpose to this trip in Gentile country. His own people have rejected his message so he goes to the Gentiles, whom his people call 'dogs'. He is reaching out to the despised and ignored who, are eager to hear him. God’s plan is universal and is not limited to human bias or prejudice, to one nation, or just to one religion. Jesus touches one considered a sinner. In the eyes of his contemporaries the man’s deafness was seen as a result of his sin. Jesus travelled a long way, physically, religiously and socially, to get to this man, to open his ears and to loosen his tongue. In this Gentile territory, a deaf man with a speech impediment, is brought to Jesus. This miracle is not just about one sick and needy person. Deafness in the Bible is symbolic for not hearing God’s word. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that "faith comes by hearing" (Rom 10:17). We need to hear God in our lives. We are like the deaf man, and don’t speak clearly. In the Old Testament hearing has spiritual implications because it summarizes the Jewish covenant God established with Israel. In Deuteronomy (6:4) the people are called to listen. “Listen (or) Hear O Israel.” What they hear is the command to love God with all their heart, soul and strength and to take to heart the word of God, which is life-giving. Through the ages God has used a variety of means to get our attention: a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a moving cloud, thunder and a gentle breeze. God’s prophets were also an attempt to get people to listen. Ultimately God’s greatest attempt to be heard and heeded came in the person of Jesus, the living Word of God. St. John in awe at what God did in Jesus says, “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the word of life” (1John 1:1). God took flesh and could also hear us and touch us and so communicate love to all. This is what Jesus did today for the deaf man. He touched the man’s ears and opened him to his word and touched his tongue with his saliva so he could speak God's word. Jesus ever sensitive to a person's need takes the deaf man off in private so as to not make a public show of his needs. Imagine how confused he must have been when he was cured, how disoriented with all the noise and excitement around him. We of course can also get distracted by the noise and voices around us. Alone with Jesus the first voice the deaf man heard was Jesus speaking to him. The miracle begins with opening the man’s ears: “Ephphatha!… Be opened!” First the man hears and then he can speak. His life has now changed completely and he starts to speak about Jesus (even though Jesus has told him not to). Jesus touched the Gentile, the outsider. At times our listening is not keen enough, or humble enough, to cause the transformation in us. We are like the deaf man and beg Jesus to open our ears to hear his word in our daily lives. Once our ears are opened and we 'hear' again about our worth to God and of our selfishness and our greed, our apathy and our laziness. We also hear what God, in Jesus, has to tell us: that we are loved and cherished by God, who desires communion with us. Now our tongues are loosened to give thanks and praise for what God has done for us in Christ. At the Eucharist we ask Jesus to speak to us, “Ephphatha...Be opened!” We also ask that we might be able to hear the voices of those who often are outside our usual range of hearing, those we can be deaf to. They include the elderly, single parents, sick poor, unborn, gays, students burdened by loans, low income workers, injured military personnel and their families and those working in dangerous jobs. The story begins with the man’s ears being opened, and so he can listen to what Jesus says. Isn’t that the best gift someone can give to another? Listening, really listening, means not formulating responses in our heads as the other is talking, but hearing them out; not feeling obliged to give good advice, or to come up with a solution for them. Just practice listening. What a gift! The best listener of all was Jesus. People who came to him felt deeply heard. Today’s story started with people who brought the deaf and mute man to Jesus. He heard their request. Remember, he was in Gentile country among those whom his own people would have rejected and ignored. But Jesus found a willing heart in this outsider. On the margins of society Jesus found an openness to his love message. God isn’t deaf. God keeps speaking to us. The gospel account tells us that God can be heard in those our world often turns a deaf ear to. This gospel story is our own personal story. What 'Gentile' territory do we need to go to? Jesus wants to give us a new gift of hearing. In the Roman Catholic rite of baptism, the priest touches the ears and lips of the person saying:“The Lord Jesus has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his words and your mouth to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father.” May this prayer be answered in all our lives. "Ephphatha!"
There are two quite separate healings in today’s gospel reading. The Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the deaf man. On first hearing these two passages, we may wonder what is happening. Usually when a person approaches Jesus and seeks a healing he does as they ask, yet here he does not. We have become accustomed to Jesus speaking the words of the healing, but here he touches and spits. I’m tempted to focus on the reading from James, but no I’ll explore the Gospel. Let’s start by looking at the Syrophoenician woman. We could, and in today’s world many would, say that Jesus was being both racist and sexist. After she approaches him, he calls her a dog and practically tells her to go away. She however challenges him and he relents. Why? Is he testing her faith, has he suddenly decided that not everyone can be healed, or is he perhaps saying this for the benefit of those around him? There’s a conundrum here and one that we could all tied up in. I think the puzzle is easily solved, but it’s a resolution we have to be prepared to accept wholeheartedly and not try to explain away. And that will be a challenge to be sure. The key to the passage lies in one little word: Gentile. The woman, and we assume her daughter, were not Jews. Remember that Jesus was, and his ministry had been among and to, the Jews. Yes, the Roman province of Palestine had many Gentiles living there and they had been there for many centuries. Remember also that it was the application of the Jewish law that the religious leaders invoked when they demanded Pilate crucify Jesus. So why was that she as a Gentile is so important? I would suggest because Mark mentions this fact that makes it important. So let’s look more closely at the passage. Jesus was in a house and Mark says he wanted to be alone. Presumably the house was open and when people discovered he was there, came rushing to him. The woman must have been known to people in the house and they were friendly enough to her to let her approach him. They must also have known about her daughter. When she approaches Jesus she kneels at his feet. The actions of a supplicant. We aren’t told her initial request, but we are told Jesus’s response. He doesn’t mention anything about faith or healing, but makes a somewhat cryptic comment about the children being fed first. We could ask, what on earth is he talking about? How on earth does food relate to this healing? Her response is equally as puzzling, she talks about dogs eating crumbs under the table? There are two elements here. Jesus is giving a teaching, to his disciples and to those around him. In other words there is a teaching here, not for her, but his listeners. The people expected him to reject her as she was not Jewish. His comment about children being fed was intended to convey the message that his ministry was to the Jews. But he is gently chastising the listeners. The woman was not to be deterred. She knew she was not a Jew. I think she knew he was speaking to the listeners, and not to her. I think she was smart and more in tune with Jesus than peopled realised. So her response was likewise, for the benefit of the listeners. She acknowledges that she is not Jewish and then says but please heal my daughter anyway. There is of course a strong display of faith in both Jesus’s ability to heal and her approach to him. He says her words persuade him to agree to heal her daughter. And again he speaks the words of healing. There is not commending her faith, no instruction about what to do after he healed the daughter. We may have expected some sort of instruction, given she was not Jewish, but there was none. She goes home, and confirms that her request has been granted. What is happening? Well as I mentioned earlier, this is a teaching for the disciples. Jesus is saying that the message of the Gospel will be for all people. The inclusion of a gentile in the ministry of Jesus demonstrates that the message is to spread beyond the children of Israel. There are hints of this elsewhere in the Gospels. When asked who their neighbour was Jesus uses the Samaritans. The centurion, a roman army officer asks for healing. But the clearest instructions are what we call the great commission and Peter’s dream as recorded in Acts. Jesus is telling the people around him not become so caught up in the nationality of the person seeking healing. There is no place for exclusivity, the message is for all. The second component of this passage, relates to the image of food and eating. I think the use food, is to remind us that Jesus is the word made flesh. It points us to the teachings about the Eucharist. It was last week that we read the passages about Jesus being the bread of heaven. As we discussed at Bible Study, Jesus’s words are the bread and when we consume them, we consume him and thus the word, and the Trinity dwells within us. There’s a lot more here and we may leave this and the healing of the deaf man for Friday’s Bible study.