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September, 16 2018

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Rev. P. Del Staigers, DMin

 

We know that things are not always as they seem.  In our desire to come to quick conclusions we can sometimes come to quick wrong conclusions.  In one of the “Elijah Stories” of the Jewish tradition, Elijah dressed in the rags of a beggar and knocked at the door of a home where a wedding celebration was being held.  The father of the bride opened the door, and Elijah asked if there was room in the party for one like him.  The man slammed the door in Elijah’s face.  Elijah returned again to the wedding celebration, this time dressed in the garb of a fine gentleman.  This time he was welcomed with great respect.  Elijah entered the house, went over to the table, and stuffed food into his vest and shirt pockets and poured wine over his clothes.  When the host came rushing over, demanding an explanation, Elijah replied:

                “When I, Elijah, came to your house in the rags of a beggar, I was refused entry.  When I, the same Elijah, came to our house in the clothes of a gentleman, I was admitted.  I could only conclude that you invited my clothes to the feast.  So, I have proceeded to feed them.”  (John Shea, Elijah at the Wedding Feast and Other Tales:  Stories of the Human Spirit [Chicago:  ACTA Publications, 1999], 27-28).

Things are not always as they seem.  To judge Elijah by his clothes was not to see Elijah at all.  The ability of people to see, including the disciples of Jesus, who Christ really is obscured as well.   Some think he is John the Baptist, some believe him to be Elijah (the prophet, not necessarily the character in the above story), some discerned him to be one of the prophets.  Through faith revealed by God Peter was able to make his initial profession, “You are the Christ.”

                As dramatic as this answer is, Peter’s creed was still not fully developed.  It would not take Councils and Catechisms for Peter to come to a deeper understanding of truth; it was the Cross.  Peter understood the question of Jesus, “Who do people (others) say that I am?” in his Middle Eastern world.  In our Western context we may miss the point of the question of Jesus completely.

                In our world today we develop “a keen sense of individualism, self-reliance, independence from others, and personal competence.”  (John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus:  Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B), Liturgical Press, 1996, 137.  In the Middle East, one’s identity is formed by the family to which one belongs:  “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” is an understanding which comes quite naturally.  You know a person by his or her family, would be the presumed understanding.

                It’s not quite the same for us.  We pride ourselves in our individualism:  “I don’t care what others think of me,” “I have to do it my way,” or “You just don’t understand me, I have to live my truth.”  Our culture prizes and rewards self actualization, independence and uniqueness.  These are not necessarily shared values for the people of Jesus’ day.  His question, “Who do others say that I am?” is a question rooted in the cultural “expectations of the group and never to frustrate or surpass those expectations.  The stubborn and rebellious son would be killed (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).”  (Pilch, 137.)

                By leaving the expectations of the group, by denying self and taking up a cross, Jesus exhorts his disciples to join a new family to juxtapose the expectation of belonging with the new realities of the Kingdom of God.  This moving from the assumption that he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Prophets to Peter’s declaration that he is the Christ is a bold move to thinking like God, rather than thinking as human beings think.

                God, indeed, is always doing something new.

                True Messiahship involves the Cross, not merely and individual Cross for Jesus, but the Cross that we all share because we living in Him.  Messiahship is intricately connected to suffering and death, so is discipleship.  Jesus commands Peter to get behind him, Jesus rebukes him because Peter has articulated the old way of thinking in which suffering and death have no part of God’s plan.  In no uncertain terms Jesus ushers in this new way of thinking, not as humans, but as God.

                Only in embracing the Paschal Mystery, in dying to self, and rising in Christ do we come to understand the mystery of being saved because we have lost our life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel, and found that we redeemed – even, maybe most especially, in suffering.  And the reality is that, try as we might, whether we run from the Cross, or try to find our own, the Cross of Christ will find us.

                When we see the poor, and are tempted to dismiss human suffering with, “Go n peace, keep warm, and eat well,” we don’t really see them as brothers and sisters.  When we spout pious platitudes, make the Cross warm and cuddly, make suffering nice, or even pretty, we succumb to the temptation to think as people think, and not as God thinks.

                Faith and works are inextricably connected to each other because suffering and salvation are both so real.  To believe or act otherwise is to fall into the trap of inviting and feeding clothes to wedding celebrations, and not people.  We know all too well how difficult it is to really see, especially when truth is right in front of us.  Sometimes things aren’t as they seem, often they are:

A monk rode an ox into town and came to a group of people.  The people asked him, “What are you looking for, monk?”  He said, “I am looking for an ox.”  They all laughed.  He rode his ox to the next group of people.  They asked him, “What are you looking for, monk?”  He said, “I am looking for an ox.”  They all laughed.  He rode his ox to a third group of people.  They asked him, “What are you looking for, monk?”  He said, “I am looking for an ox.”  They said, “This is ridiculous.  You are a man riding and ox looking for an ox.”  The monk said, “So it is with you looking for God.”  (John Shea, The Legend of the Bells and Other Tales:  Stories of the Human Spirit [Chicago:  ACTA Publications, 1996], 111-12).

We don’t look for the Cross, it finds us.

© Rev. Del Staigers.

 

 

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