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Homily: Sunday, 8/30/20

Today's readings can be found: {HERE}

As we approach the election season, we increasingly see proxy conflicts between detractors of certain candidates and advocates of them. Detractors try to undermine their opponent’s candidate, and supporters clarify or deflect the more problematic points of their chosen one.

To some extent, I can imagine a similar dynamic happening at the time of Christ, between his detractors—oftentimes the scribes and Pharisees—and his own disciples, who typically were reduced to silence, until Jesus himself spoke to defend the cause.

Today, we see a unique moment in the "campaign" of Jesus. After acknowledging the truth that he is the Christ and the Son of the living God, Jesus tried to teach his disciples what that actually meant: He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed; and on the third day be raised.

But his disciples apparently had their own interpretation of what being the Messiah meant; and they rejected Jesus’ description of it. Perhaps that's why he forbade them at that time to reveal his identity to others; others would misunderstand the title. This scene proves the point.

In particular, Peter tried to "handle" Jesus, like a manager who handles a candidate. Like political figures whose speech may be reigned in until certain "talking points" are carefully tested with selected groups beforehand, Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from his untested messaging.

And Jesus calls Peter out on it: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Humanly, Peter tried to "manage" Jesus; but neither Jesus nor his message can be "managed". Every time, he will shatter the chains of any attempt to "handle" him, as he moves steadily toward the Cross.

Time and again, Jesus will shock his observers: He will antagonize the people of his own hometown; he will physically assault people with a whip and chase them out of the Temple; he’ll overthrow the tables of merchants; he’ll condemn the religious elite—to their face—for their corruption and lack of faith; he’ll name himself the Lord of the Sabbath; he’ll say that he must be loved more than one’s family, and even more than one’s own life; he’ll call himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he’ll say that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood—literally—to have eternal life; and finally, without ambiguity, and to the very people who want to condemn him for blasphemy, he’ll claim to be God.

No mortal creature can "manage" that message. But one can distance himself from it. And many did. Jesus died alone on the Cross, abandoned by his followers, except for his Mother, Mary Magdalene, and the beloved disciple. The "handlers" all scattered.

In our day, the temptation to manage Jesus is still there: to deflect from his more problematic teachings and actions; to spin them so that they’re more palatable to modern sensibilities, or to avoid them altogether; to present to the world a polished Jesus without the ugliness or horror of the Cross.

But it’s then that we’ve done the unthinkable: we’ve forged our own version of the molten calf; we’ve created a god according to our image; we’ve emptied the Cross of its power. That is not the way of the disciple.

To quote Saint Paul to the Corinthians: Christ sent me to preach the Gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17); When I came to you brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-2).

This is the symbol of our faith. The crucifix is our admission that our faith is beyond our "management". The crucified Christ escapes our meager attempts at presenting a palatable picture. When we see this, it’s clear that there is nothing pretty about our faith at its praxis; in its lived experience—from a worldly perspective. When we live our faith fully, this is the visible result.

So what are we called to do, if not manage Christ and his message? We simply follow him as his disciples; that means faithfully receiving the gospel message, and faithfully proclaiming it to others.

That dynamic of receiving and proclaiming is the realization that the disciples will all arrive it, which will provide them the framework for their writings. They don't resort to platitudes or worldly eloquence to try to cleverly convince the listener that Jesus is the savior; they simple proclaim what they have witnessed, and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide others to belief through the hearing of the Word.

While this dynamic of proclaiming the witness that was first received will characterize the various accounts of the human writers' of the New Testament (God is the true author), I'll invoke a tiny excerpt from Saint Paul, by way of example.

To the Corinthians, he writes: I delivered to you of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. He was buried. He was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4).

In so small a space, Saint Paul speaks of how he proclaims what he has first received. With no appeal to eloquent rhetoric, he simply testifies to what has been witnessed by the first disciples. And the creed he proclaims is beautiful in its simplicity.

Likewise, we too are called to receive the witness of our forefathers in faith. We ought to be fluent in sacred scriptures; particularly the New Testament, which witnesses to Jesus Christ directly. When we learn these writings well, through the grace of God we are led to faith, and we then pass on the unedited gospel of Jesus Christ to a new generation of believers.

Pietro Perugino's Delivery of the Keys, c. 1481 - 1482 (retrieved from Wikipedia)


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