Tuesday, 8 September 2009

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Walking along the road between villages Jesus asks a deceptively casual-sounding question: Who do people say I am? His disciples tell him, ‘Oh, various people – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.’ It all sounds like one of those throw-away conversations people have to fill in time, except that the Word of God does not waste words.

But you, who do you say I am? Peter spoke up and said to him: You are the Christ. Then, strangely, Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

What are we to make of this?

Almost thirty years ago I made my first retreat; it was an eight day, silent, preached retreat and the theme was: Who is Jesus for me?

The retreat director warned us, ‘Don’t tell me Jesus is the Son of God, or the Lamb of God, or even the Redeemer of the world. Those titles are not from your personal experiences; I want you to discover who Jesus is for you.'

Firstly, of course, we must understand that Jesus badly wants to reveal himself to us; for us to come to know him. There is nothing he wishes more than to make himself known so that we can come to know his Father.

To reveal the Father is the very reason Jesus came to earth and consequently it does not seem likely that Jesus would withhold this revelation from someone who sincerely asked for it.

And so we were given a prayer to say:
Father, give me in my heart
Your Holy Spirit
That I may come to know
who Jesus is for me.

At this point I need to say that God does not like merely to tell us things about himself; he likes to show us as well. The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) draws our attention to the fact that God reveals as he accomplishes and that this is realised by deeds and words having an inner unity (Article 2).

Think of the name that God gave himself - I AM WHO I AM. Have you ever noticed that this name is a verb, a doing word? It is almost as if God is saying, ‘I am what I do.’ or ‘I do what I am.’

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist who came to ask him on John's behalf if he really was the Messiah: Go back and tell John what you see me doing … . He could well have added, ‘then he will know who I am.'

Jesus requires that his words ‘find a home’ in the one to whom they are spoken. God shows Moses who he is by demanding that he act out who he is. He tells him that he can stand up before the pharaoh by making him actually go to the pharaoh.

So now, back to the retreat. I said that prayer for many hours until even in my spare time I found myself repeating it. On a certain day I was walking around an oval just down the road from the retreat centre. Round and round I went saying my prayer.

At a certain point I became aware that Jesus was in my heart and that he was my brother. This was not just something I knew intellectually, it was something I KNEW with my whole being. ‘Jesus is in me; he is my brother.’

I stopped walking and held my hand over my heart. Of course, I didn’t feel anything, I didn’t need to; I KNEW - WAY beyond feeling.

Then it struck me that if Jesus was my brother, then God was my Father! It was for me an awesome moment. ‘God is my Father!’ As this truth asserted itself within me I seemed to have become an entirely different person, in a manner of speaking. I was now the son of a loving God, my Father in heaven. Instantly I realised that in that blessed moment I could ask of my Father ANYTHING I wanted, and he would give it to me. [I still wonder occasionally what would have happened if I had actually asked for something but all I could say was: Father, what more could I want than having you as my Father and Jesus as my brother?]
Then Jesus seemed to speak as if in answer to my prayer. He said: I will tell you who I am, as you let me become who I am, in you.

The last thirty years have helped me to understand this ‘word of knowledge’ more and more. We come to know who Jesus is – by letting him, more and more, BECOME himself in us. The Word of God must "bear fruit" in us or Jesus will say to us as he says to those who merely gave him lip service: depart ... I never KNEW you. I believe this is why he would not let the devils speak about him, and why he ordered the disciples not to reveal him, because they did not yet KNOW him. Peter is clear proof of this as he remonstrates with Jesus and is told: Get behind me.

So, although we have not yet answered the question ‘Who is Jesus for me?’ we now have a new understanding of the question. Through the Old Testament, through the New Testament, through the teaching of the Church, through the whispered revelation of himself in our hearts and in our life experiences Jesus answers: I will reveal myself to you as you allow me to become myself in you.