TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR


Commentaries on the Readings:  Zechariah 12:10-11; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24

JESUS WAS A QUESTION MARK for many people. Was he Elijah, the prophet who had left this earth in a fiery chariot and was expected to return to announce the coming of the Messiah? We are told even King Herod was confused. Frightened, superstitious and guilty, he wanted to see Jesus. Was Jesus, as King Herod seemed to think, a re-incarnation of John the Baptist? Or was Jesus one of the other prophets? No one seemed to think that he might be a prophet in his own right. (But, then, as Jesus himself commented, people tend not to recognise the prophets in their midst. We might ask: Who are the prophets in our society, in our Church, today?)

Jesus praying

Today’s scene opens with Jesus praying alone. Luke presents Jesus as praying before all the important events of his life. Maybe there are some who wonder why Jesus, if he was the Son of God, had to pray. Who did he pray to? What did he pray about? These questions might be a hint that we have limited concept of what prayer is about. Prayer is primarily being in communication with God. It involves both listening and speaking. In some of the deepest forms of prayer, nothing at all is said. One is just bathed in the all-surrounding presence of God.

It is very clear that Jesus prayed to his Father. He was very concerned that he be always in perfect harmony with what his Father wanted. After feeding 5,000 people, when the people, in their excitement, wanted to make him king, he fled to the hills alone to pray. Did he need this period with his Father to overcome any temptations to accede to the wishes of the crowd? He knew that this was not the way he was to become his followers’ king. He also made petitions, especially as a human being. We see this most obviously in the Garden before his passion. On the human level, he dreaded what would happen to him after his arrest. It took him some time (“Could you not watch one hour with me?”) before he was restored to peace and full acceptance of what he had to go through. At the Last Supper, as described in John’s gospel, he prayed for his disciples and his future followers.

Who is Jesus?

Now Jesus asks disciples: “Who do people say I am?” The disciples repeat the various speculations of the crowd. “But who do you say I am?” Peter, speaking for all, “You are the Messiah/Christ/Anointed (King) of God.” Clearly, this is a high point in his disciples’ relationship with Jesus. Unlike the crowds or Herod, they now know who Jesus really is. Jesus’ disciples, commissioned by Jesus to preach and given authority to release from demons and to heal, recognise their Master as the long-awaited Messiah. It must have been a heady and exciting moment for them. They must have been bursting to tell everyone: “Our Master is the Messiah!”

Jesus quickly puts a damper on that idea. They are to tell no one. Why not? Were they not told to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Yes, but later on. Right now, the ordinary people have very specific expectations of what the Messiah is going to be like and the wonderful things he is going to do, like defeating all Israel’s enemies and returning it to its former glory. After Jesus has been publicly disgraced, tried and executed like a common criminal, then they can boast of their association with Jesus as Messiah.

Shocking news

Instead they are shocked and stunned to hear: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed, and on the third day be raised.” From now on, the disciples must begin to learn that this is the kind of Messiah they are following. Jesus is no popular hero of the hour, no champion of the Jewish cause against foreign domination, no leader of a liberation war.

On the contrary, this Messiah, will be rejected by leaders of his own people, will be tried and executed by the foreign power he is expected to drive out. This was not the expected scenario. There must have been a stunned silence after Jesus spoke until the impetuous Peter blurted out his protest (not recorded here by Luke).

No, victory for Jesus will come through love, loyalty to truth, integrity and non-violence. As the First Reading says: God will pour out “a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” They – and generations afterwards – “will look on the one whom they have pierced”, a sentence quoted by John during his account of the crucifixion.

More than recognition

But it is not enough to recognise Jesus as the Messiah or to be filled with wonder and compassion at his suffering, death and resurrection. We are called to be followers, disciples. And, as disciples, Jesus today calls on us:

– to deny self

– to take up our cross every day

– to follow Jesus.

Of course, to deny one’s self in one sense is not possible nor is it desirable. We are encouraged to promote our self-esteem and the full acceptance of ourselves. In a way, we cannot do otherwise. But there are good and bad ways of going about that self-affirmation. If we do so at the expense of truth, love and freedom, it can only be at the expense of other people and our environment and is self-defeating. Selfishness, self-centredness are quite distinct from a wholesome self-love, self-appreciation, self-acceptance.

It is to our best advantage to open ourselves totally to those transcendent values which the Gospel presents to us. And 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.

 

 

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