Homily for 6.23.13
12th Sunday in
The Lectionary Gospel reading for this morning, as we heard, comes from St. Luke, who brings to us the heart of GOD’s response through Jesus to the brokenness of the world, and the heart of the disciple’s response to Jesus, the Christ of GOD. As such, St. Luke presents to us the importance of Jesus’ calling to a serious life-and-death vocation, a calling involving the gospel and GOD’s Kingdom agenda. But, what is also present in this pericope is the disciple’s calling to truly follow the Jesus-way as well.
All through his Gospel Luke has been offering us clues to Jesus’ identity by showing us his glorious works. For example, Jesus raises the widow’s son from the dead, he feeds the multitudes, he forgives sins himself without benefit of temple sacrifice, he calms the storm so that finally the disciples ask who is this that the wind and waves obey him. Yet, we have no indication that he answered this question at the time. His works, to be sure, were meant to indicate to his hearers who he was and what he was about, but he had yet to offer any explicit confirmation, let alone some sort of identity declaration, that is until now.
JESUS THE MESSIAH
But now the time had come. After some alone time in prayer Jesus asked the disciples:
“Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
Who do you say that I am? There is the true question.
Peter’s answer comes to him as a revelation from the LORD -- you are the Christ of God, (Mt.16:17) and Jesus acknowledges the reality of this revelation, but then swears them to secrecy because such a statement was so volatile politically. To be the Christ of GOD meant Jesus understood himself to be the Promised One of Israel, the Jewish Messiah, which was ostensibly understood as a threat to the current regime. However, even though this designation and others like it -- the Son of Man -- would unveil Jesus as Messiah, this idea should be carefully understood.
Far from announcing Jesus as the second person of the Trinity -- which would only be brought to light later -- these titles for Messiah offers Jesus’ hearers a human exposition into the idea that GOD was about to act in behalf of his chosen people. Many Hebrews believed that when the Messiah appeared he would finally end exile, liberate the people of GOD from the cruelty of the Gentiles and from the heresies in both belief and practice of non-faithful Hebrews. They believed GOD would actually one day, finally, return and vindicate his people, executing the power of his will to justify them not only before the enemies who surrounded them, but before the entire world.
Think about a passage like Daniel 7 in this light:
13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
This passages and others like it are key in understanding what Jesus and may of his contemporaries understood to be Israel’s long, long story, a story with a future, and a story within which Jesus understood his calling to be found and fulfilled.
JESUS THE MODEL OF HUMANNESS
This leads us to a clearer discernment as to why Jesus was so often misunderstood by his fellow Jews. Jesus came not to conquer at the point of a sword -- which was the growing expectation, but he was no violent revolutionary. Instead, Jesus offers his nation, and ultimately the world, a conquering action, to be sure, but one that is found in a new way to be and a new way to act in the world. That is, Jesus embodies through his actions a way to be that vividly goes beyond the ego driven self, human selfishness which is sin and the fleshly craving for retribution and vengeance. In short, he brings to the world an offer of true humanness.
This is what is meant when he says:
The Son of Man 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.”
What his hearers did not understand, and apparently could not understand until afterwards, was that the coming, promised Kingdom would be accomplished by absorbing violence and not by perpetrating it. What they could not see is that GOD’s Kingdom would come not at the end of history, but instead in the middle of history (N.T. Wright). And, what they only understood later is that the Kingdom would be realized by Jesus’ rejection, by his suffering, by his execution and by the surprise of his resurrection. Jesus, then, taking on himself the calling found within the prophetic Suffering-Servant motif, enacted the reality of the Kingdom on the cross, birthing the Kingdom in the hear-and-now reality found within the promises of Judaism and in the very face of the brutal Roman empire.
Jesus understood his actions to coincide with the promises of GOD’s coming to his people found in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus understood his actions as initiating the final, complete response of GOD’s love for his world now mired in selfishness and marred by sin. And Jesus understood that as he drank that dark cup of the world’s hate and greed and violence and death, he at the same time birthed for the world the final Kingdom based upon sacrificial love, reconciling forgiveness, new life and a new way to live.
We could understand what is at stake by asking just what it means to be a follower of GOD? But, we must respond: How could one know? How could one discover who GOD is and what GOD is like? The task is insurmountable. How can finite comprehend infinity? How can the particular surmise the universal?
We can only understand who GOD is by coming to grasp who Jesus was, and is. This is the only way to begin to penetrate the mystery that is GOD, and the movement that is the Kingdom.
“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18)
LIFE AND DEATH DISCIPLESHIP
Thus, like Jesus, we too are faced with a life and death discipleship. Jesus explains what it means to follow him into this his Kingdom which is new life and this new way to live:
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, 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.”
These words are very likely difficult for us to truly hear. So used are we to somehow fitting Jesus into the corners and weekends of our lives, that the idea of giving up our selves -- losing our lives for his sake -- is well nigh impossible for us to grasp tightly. Sometimes we feel we have it, but then just as quickly we loose our grip and drift back into the world of selfish-ego and self-aggrandizement.
Here is our struggle: We are culturally captive. We are more at home in this world, where we find ourselves at the center of the universe than in the Kingdom where Jesus is LORD. We desperately want both worlds, but Jesus says we must choose one or the other:
“If anyone wishes to come after me...”
How do we wish this? How do we make this choice? How do we grip tightly this life-and-death discipleship?
WE MUST WISH TO COME AFTER JESUS
First, we must ask ourselves what is it we truly desire? Do we desire the LORD and his ways or do we ultimately desire the things of the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Said differently, to be a life-and-death disciple we must turn from the ways of the world, as difficult as this challenge is:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; 16 for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
WE MUST WISH TO COME AFTER JESUS, DAILY
(or even moment by moment)
Second, we must follow Jesus daily. That is, we only have this one existential moment in which to lose our lives by following Jesus. So, it is in in this moment, and only this moment, that life-and-death discipleship is lived. We cannot and we should not think in life-time terms such as:
“We will never deny you Lord, even if we have to die with you.” (Mt. 26:35)
This is clearly crazy talk. We know not what tomorrow will bring, other than suffering, and we know not how we will respond to suffering. We hope to stand strong; it is our intention to do so, but we must not presume, instead saying, in this moment, and only in this moment for this moment is all I have, I follow Jesus as best I can, adding then, if we are wise: “the LORD willing.” As St. James reminds us:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
WE COME AFTER JESUS FROM
THE HEART OF PRAYER
Finally, we can only truly come after Jesus, we can only daily die to self through an ongoing vital, vibrant life of prayer. Brothers and Sisters, believe me when I say there is not other way.
Remember how today’s text began:
“Once when Jesus was praying in solitude...”
If Jesus found solitude vital to his calling how much must we? And, while I can offer clues as to how one develops a life of prayer -- which should not be taken to me that I am somehow and expert for I am not -- in reality each one must find their own way here.
Much more, of course, could be said about the life of prayer, other than the rather puny advise of finding your own way, but what I mean to say by this is that prayer is a relationship with GOD and must discovered through the individual’s own humanity. What works for one will not work for all.
The key, therefore, is to offer GOD your time. Find solitude. Fight for it. And, when you get there be quiet before GOD and find a way to quiet your heart. Then, when you are finally able to refrain from asking things for yourself, what you find is that the ego of the false-self comes blazing to surface, shattering your quite and seemingly sabotaging your prayers. But, this is not so. Strangely, if you persist, you also discern that the healing power of GOD is present as well, submerging you under the waves of his own restorative Spirit, and this makes all the difference. And, what you also find is that after time your discipleship begins to change. Of course, you never arrive; you never achieve perfection, but you suddenly discover a new buoyancy to your following Jesus, and a new willingness to die to self, something that you never had before you began to learn to pray.
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, “The Son of Man 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.”
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, 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.”