12 Sunday 2013 C
Who do the crowds say I am? The question takes the disciples by surprise, since Jesus never seemed to put a lot of stock in what people thought of him. But what do people say about Jesus? They think he is John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. Clearly they thought he was one preparing the way for the Messiah but not himself the waited Messiah.
“But who do you say I am?”.
The confession of Peter is told in all four Gospels. It's at the very center and heart of each gospel. It is a turning point in Jesus' Ministry.
Peter's answer – “the Christ of God” has deep meaning for these twelve Jews.
He is called “the Anointed One of God.” Anointed is the mark of a choice by God for special work.
Jesus immediately was aware his disciples had false hopes about him. He began to explain to them that he was not the Messiah they seemed to expect.
He revealed to them that he was to suffer and be put to death but that he would be raised in victory.
As today’s reading implies, if we lose ourselves in Jesus, that is, if we surrender to him, we will be able to share his life and share in his glory.
As we walk the way of the cross we discover his face as did Veronica.
That’s the root invitation inside of Christianity. “If anyone wants to be a follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
To realize our truest identity, we must daily die to ourselves. This is the way we become who we truly are to be—followers of Jesus who share more and more in the life of the risen Lord.
Religion is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, it comforts us with the security of God’s love and protection. On the other hand, it makes demands of us that are frightening in their consequences. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, represents a combination of the two aspects of religion. The Shepherd who cares for and comforts his sheep. The Shepherd who knows each by name. But he is the shepherd and the sacrificial victim. “I give my life for my sheep, ” he says. Those of us who follow Jesus must rely on God’s protection and must “endure many sufferings.”
Unfortunately the Cross is not only part of the central message of Christianity, accepting the Cross is its central requirement.
Jesus said that he had to suffer — and that we also have to suffer, to take up our cross, to lose ourselves. But why? Is there no better way to improve than through pain?
Why? Why the cross? Why evil? Our questions remind us that:
- natural evil is normal because material things including our bodies pass,
- that we bring much of our suffering on ourselves by bad choices,
- that our suffering if accepted is joined to Christ’s to redeem the world
- that we are vulnerable creatures dependent on God.
Yet if God himself spoke to me and told me exactly why every single suffering in the world happened — would I be satisfied? No. Because there would still be suffering. So, the final question is not why suffering but how do I accept it.
Suffering, along with everything else good and bad in life, is the occasion for deepening our relationship with God, which is the very reason we exist at all. We can get closer to God through a new baby, a sunset, love, anything. But suffering has a peculiar power.
In pain, we learn, if we believe, to surrender our life into God’s care trusting that God personally cares for us. In suffering, we discover whether we truly love God or just use God. And we either fight pain alone or with the strength of God.
In a certain sense, with or without Christianity, the Cross is there in the life of every human being—for suffering, one way or another, is a thing we cannot avoid. Suffering is an integral part of life.
Christianity enables us to accept suffering as a part of the process of life; there is pain in decline, rejection and death. There is pain in love and pain in keeping fit. There is pain in sin and isolation. There is pain in living in community or any relationship. Christianity does not take it away, but helps to make sense of it. A Christian does not suffer less than others and even may be led to martyrdom.
We must follow the Messiah in the path of love which will always be a path of suffering. Instinct moves us to self-protection yet we are called to deny ourselves.
Jesus’ challenge remains: Don’t be a victim or a doormat or an enabler of abusive behavior, but do consider, willingly and without resentment, laying down your life for others by living the greater challenge.
In our second reading, Paul doesn’t restrict Christianity to Jews, anymore than he restricts it to free people or men. There are no preconditions. All are welcome; all can become other Christs. Jesus can’t be identified with one race, religion or gender.
Our faith isn’t an instant event; it’s an ongoing process. It begins
through the fountain of baptism. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” With the robe we put on Christ. The baptismal garment prevents differences like gender, color, race, social status or sexual orientation from denying the truth that we are one in the Spirit!
To take up our cross every day is not to go out of our way looking for pain and trouble. That would be a very unhealthy way of behaving. It means accepting what comes into our life and positively and constructively seeing God's love and grace in every experience, even the most painful. And we must imitate the good shepherd in our willingness to lay down our lives for one another.
Paul,who had his own full share of crosses, was still able to state: "Everything works together for good to those who love God."