23Jun 23rd June 2013. 12th Sunday of Year C.

Zech 12:10-11,13:1. Guided by a new spirit, people will revere the One they have executed.

Gal 3:26-29. “Neither slave or free, male or female” – the equal dignity of the baptised.

Lk 9:18-24. Jesus warns that he will be rejected, and his fate will be shared by his followers.

Our Lord warns about his impending suffering and death. Only by taking up the cross can disciples follow him. We are fuller disciples of Jesus by accepting the crosses that come our way.

First Reading: Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

Who do you think I am?

One day, somewhere in the foothills of Mount Hermon, where Jesus had brought his disciples for a quiet time, he asked them straight out, “Who are people saying that I am?” It is the most crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. Luke sets the episode in a period of stillness and reflection, away from the hectic activity prior to it. This episode marks a turning point in Christ’s mission, for at its end we are told, “As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, he fixed his face firmly to go to Jerusalem.”

Heading for Jerusalem must have cost Jesus a real inner struggle. Was he apprehensive about what his fate was to be in Jerusalem? All our Gospels say how well he knew he was going to meet his death there at the hands of his enemies. Or was he happy with what he had achieved so far, with the understanding of himself and his mission his disciples had gained?

As their first answer to, “Who do people say that I am?,” his disciples list some of the popular rumours circulating about him, that he was John the Baptist restored to life, or a reincarnate Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish history. Then came an awkward silence when he put the harder question, “Who do YOU say that I am?” It is never enough to know what other people see in Jesus. Christianity is not just knowing about Jesus; its core consists in knowing Jesus personally, and this in a developing way. In other words, knowing Christ comes ultimately from a person-to-person experience of his living presence, an experience that grows within the Christian community and is vital in sustaining it.

Peter’s answer to this question of who Jesus is the only one recorded, and it is interesting to examine the different reports of it in the three synoptic gospels. The oldest – Mark’s report –  is simply, “You are the Christ.” The title Christ, Messiah, means “the anointed one,” a quality shared by kings, priests, and prophets, and Jesus was seen as combining all three. Luke’s gospel has the slightly longer answer, “You are the Christ of God” – which to his Gentile-Christian readers helped to explain that Jesus was on a God-given mission. The report in Matthew, written later still, is the longest and most elaborated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We cannot know exactly what Peter said on that occasion, but the shortest version “You are the Christ,” is the most likely. The other two versions: “You are the Christ of God,” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” could easily develope from that, as the evangelists reflected on the full significance of Jesus.

The four Gospels reflect the faith of the Christian communities out of which they grew. What we find in the  period between the writing of Mark’s gospel and that of Matthew, is the growth in their understanding of Jesus. The active faith of the first Christian generations penetrated deeper and deeper into his identity. It was only after deep reflection on the sayings of Jesus, on the miracles he worked, and especially on his presence to them in the post-resurrection time, that they came to clearly believe in his divinity.

The later church continued to find meaningful answers to his question, “Who do you say that I am?” And Christ to this day continues to issue the same challenge to each believer. Writing about the faith to his young companion Timothy, St Paul declared, “I know whom I have believed,” not  “I know what I have believed.” Essential Christianity is not captured in a list of truths. It means knowing a person – not a person of the remote past, but the person of Jesus Christ living within and among us, for individually and collectively we are called to be the temple of the risen glorified Son of God.

Justice and Discrimination

People today are more interested in rights and freedoms and personal dignity than in a message about self-denial or taking up the cross. Yet  today’s readings show us a nice balance between human dignity and equality for all and the need for self-sacrifice. Modern freedoms are welcome and too long delayed, but they bring attendant dangers when a culture of entitlement replaces one of responsibility.

One of the following could be developed:

(1) Each should know and rejoice in our own dignity as child of God. But each other person is as good as we are in the eyes of God, equally a brother or sister of Christ.

(2) The first duty of a Christian towards his neighbour is to give him his proper dignity as a child of God. Allow him or her to be what he or she is.

(3) Remember the one they pierced on the cross. That’s the Master we follow. And remember that he is pierced often today in the oppressed, the poverty-stricken, the sick, the neglected. I must seek for them the dignity I claim for myself.

Does the Cross still have a place?

Medicine has improved remarkably and today the prospect of sudden grave illness has greatly diminished. Half a century ago, the life of a priest was dominated by what were called “sick calls.” Day or night he could be called, and often was, to administer the last sacraments to the dying. He daren’t leave his house without leaving explicit instructions as to where he could be found and if for some reason he had to leave his parish, he would always contact a neighbouring priest, to cover his parish in his absence.

No priest today feels this awesome responsibility. Nowadays most people  die in hospitals, where they are cared for by chaplains; back then, most died in their homes. Everybody, including children, would have seen death at close quarters. They would have watched over a dying member of the family, for days arid weeks and months, as life slowly ebbed away until at last it flickered out. Sooner or later, “the Great Reaper’ (depicted as a skeleton wielding a scythe,) was an occasional visitor in every home. Almost the only use made of the “parlour” in country houses was to lay out the dead and hold the wake.

Before pain-killing drugs became widely available, mainly due to the Hospice movement, sickness and death were always accompanied by suffering and in response  people turned to what they called “the consolations of religion.” They had an instinctive empathy for the suffering and death of Christ, which we can barely comprehend now. The Stations of the Cross had an enormous appeal for them. It helped them make sense of their own lives. They were urged to join their sufferings to the sufferings of Christ. Unavoidable suffering was seen as “the will of God” and “resignation” in the face of suffering was the great virtue. We were taught “to offer it up” in reparation for personal sins and those of others. It explains the enormous popularity of somebody like St Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who was canonised not long after her death. She died from tuberculosis in her early twenties and her diary “The Little Way” had enormous appeal in Ireland, where there was scarcely a home that had not lost a young boy or girl prematurely as a result of tuberculosis.

Now tuberculosis has been eradicated, only to be replaced by cancer, which in turn seems about to be conquered by medical science, through carefully targetted anti-cancer agents. Suffering no longer occupies centre-stage as it did formerly, but it will remain, like death, a permanent part of the human condition. The cross will remain forever at the core of Christianity, although at this time in history, in our post-Christian era, it is probably more worn as an ornament rather than as a religious symbol. But what Christ said in today’s gospel, he says to all: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.”

What would YOU have answered?

Today’s gospel poses the central question of our faith: “Who do you say that I am?” If we reply that Jesus is someone we are prepared to follow, he makes very clear what that will imply. Imagine, if you can, Jesus posing that same question to a group of intellectual theologians. The answer would go something like this: “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being; the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships.” I could well imagine that Jesus’ reply would be: “WHAT?’!

“And you, who do you say that I am?” Jesus is a personal God, who asks personal questions. “Will you also go away?” “Do you love me more than these?” The question is addressed to each of us personally, and the answer must come from personally too. We will not find that answer in a book, but in the heart. If we are to follow him, we must join in his journey, as Peter did. We must take up the cross of daily living, faithful to his call, so that he can lead us to the fullness of life. If we follow him, we need not expect much in the way of earthly glory for our pains. Just as he was rejected and marginalised for refusing to conform to the standards of this world, whoever takes him seriously may expect a similar response.

The complete answer to the question is “You are my Saviour, my Lord and my God.” “You are Saviour in the room of my past; the Lord of the room of my future, and you are God in the room of today.” God is totally a God of now. “I am who am.” If he is Saviour, then I don’t have to be back in the past, with regret, guilt, or self-condemnation. If he is Lord, then I don’t have to live in the future, with worries, anxieties, and fear. I need have no fear of the future, if I believe that he holds the future. If he is God today, then “there is nothing impossible with God.”