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The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016

      If you found yourself tuning out on the gospel reading, or not tracking it too closely, I won’t be surprised. It lacked the punch of a parable, for one thing, and it may have seemed so familiar as to be forgettable. It may also have sounded a bit too challenging for a summer Sunday!  But it was too important to tune out. That was clear from the opening words of the reading: “Once when Jesus was praying in solitude.”

     In Luke’s gospel, whenever we are told that Jesus is at prayer, or that he goes off by himself to pray, that’s a tipoff that he is about to do something important. At pivotal points of his ministry, Luke has Jesus taking time to pray. He prays at his baptism; he prays before he calls the Twelve; he prays at the Transfiguration; he prays before he teaches his disciples how to pray; he prays in the garden of Gethsemane; and his final words on the cross are a prayer: ”Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

     So, today’s reading from Luke has to be important because it begins with Jesus at prayer. First he prays, then he teaches.  And, good rabbi that he is, he teaches by putting a question to his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They respond by telling him what they’ve been hearing: John the Baptist has come back from the dead, or maybe Elijah, or another of the prophets of old. In other words, they tell Jesus that the people regard him as a prophet in a long line of prophets.

     But then Jesus shifts his question. He personalizes it.  He no longer wants to wants to what the crowds think, he want to know what they think. “Who do you say that I am? He asks. True to form, Peter speaks up, and speaks first: “The Christ of God,” he says. You are the Messiah. You are God’s Anointed one. 

     Jesus’s response is surprising, to say the least. Unlike in Matthew’s telling of this story where Jesus declares Peter “blessed” for his answer and promises him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Luke tells us that Jesus  “rebuked” Peter and the disciples. That’s a strong word and a strange response, wouldn’t you agree?  Normally, a teacher rewards a correct answer, but here, the teacher seems to be saying, ‘Watch what you say,’ or maybe ‘You have no idea what you’re saying.’

     And that’s exactly what Jesus was saying. The title, “Messiah,” that Peter gave him means God’s Anointed One. It had overtones of glory but also some very pointed political overtones, so Jesus seized the moment to clarify things for Peter and his disciples. He didn’t correct them but he wanted them to know what calling him Messiah meant, and it wasn’t they thought. “The Son of Man,” he said, “must suffer greatly, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

     No wonder Jesus spent time in prayer before dropping that bomb. It was a game changer! And no wonder that shortly after dropping it, Luke tells us that Jesus took three of them, Peter, James, and John, off to a mountain with him where he was brilliantly transfigured before them. It was as if he wanted to assure them that there was a glorious side to the title Messiah as well as a grim one.

     But that was another day. This day Jesus speaks only about his approaching suffering and death, and he then tells his followers what all this would mean for them. ‘If anyone wishes to come after me,” he says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”  In no uncertain terms he puts them on notice that what happens to the teacher will also happen to the disciple. 

     And did you notice the word “daily?”  Jesus’ disciples are not only to take up their cross and follow, but are to do so daily. Following the master is for the long haul, not the short. Each day will involve shouldering the cross.

     But we know that, my friends, don’t we?  We do. We may try to get around it, we may rail against it, and rebel at times, and call it unfair or unjust – I know I do - but that doesn’t change anything.  The disciple is not greater than the teacher.  What happened to the one will happen to the other.

     I’m reminded of the film, “Of Gods and Men.” It’s the story of a community of French Trappist monks who were murdered in Algeria back in 1996. They lived simply and prayerfully in a small Muslim village where they did medical and social work, but a rising tide of extremist violence began to put the monks’ lives at risk, and then the question arose: should they remain there or return to the safety of their home in France?

     Only after a great deal of painful soul searching did the monks become convinced that God wanted them to stay. I remember one especially poignant moment during their struggle to decide. One of the young monks says to the leader of the community, “I did not become a monk to die.”  And the leader replies, “But you have already given away your life…!”

     And so he had. And so have we, my friends. We’re not monks, of course, but we are disciples. We, too, have already given away our lives. It began at our baptism, continued at our Confirmation, and has never stopped.  We became disciples, Christians, in order to live, yes, but strangely, also in order to die and, if we’re serious about it, we die every day in one way or another – including this day. And the Eucharist we are about to receive?  It’s all about living, of course, but it’s also about dying, dying in order to live or, to use Jesus’ words, “losing our lives in order to save them.” The disciple is not greater than the teacher!       

Father Michael G. Ryan

  

 

 

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