Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday word, 13 Sep 2009

24th Sunday of the Year (13 Sep 2009)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Gospel As Personal Story

The location of today’s gospel selection within the whole of Mark’s Gospel makes it a hinge in this portrait of Jesus. The setting of the passage, along the way, is the first of many times that Jesus will speak to others on his way to suffer, die and rise in Jerusalem.

Earlier in Mark’s Gospel the disciples had wondered who Jesus was. When Jesus stilled the wind and waves and saved their lives, the disciples, filled with great awe [wondered] to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”/1/ Their ability to identify Jesus as God’s messiah was gradual. Their knowledge of his identity, however, did not allow them to follow in his way immediately.

The disciples portrayed by Mark learned Jesus slowly, often taking two steps back for their steps forward in learning him. Unlike us the disciples did not know the end of the story of Jesus. Yet their two steps back for each one forward is not different from us when it comes to learning Jesus.

Learning Jesus includes unlearning weighing everything from a strictly human point of view. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus when Jesus began to teach [his disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days, was no mere wish things would be different; Peter rejected what God revealed to Peter; the human struggled against the divine.

The word rebuke, in Peter...began to rebuke Jesus, is the same word that described Jesus confronting the wind and sea, and moreover, the unclean spirits. After calling his first disciples to follow him, Jesus taught in a synagogue, where he healed a man with an unclean spirit: Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” What followed next is even more vivid: when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of the man./2/

What we take for granted, Jesus is our crucified Messiah, tore Peter, ripped through his mind and heart and emotions. Put yourself in Peter’s skin: to have a helpless savior or to have a flawed hero or to have a limited liberator or to have a puny protector—those offend us; to Peter all the more offensive was a crucified Messiah.

How often we function the same way! We rebuke God and don’t allow God to grace our limited humanity. We continue to live the struggle between God’s desire and plan for our salvation and our limited logic and urge to be in control at all costs. We echo Peter, who “expressed human wisdom at it’s most convincing.”/3/

This hinge in Mark’s gospel is also a hinge in Christian living: our struggle to trust in Jesus, not just the miracle worker but the crucified Messiah, is demanding. Perhaps its sharpest demand is coming to admit that not thinking in the ways of Jesus is folly and that thinking in the ways of Jesus and his Father is true wisdom.

Two things I find revealing and encouraging in this struggle: first, Jesus did not intimidate Peter or debate him. Jesus disclosed the deception Peter allowed to control him: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus had confidence in Peter, as limited as his learning was. Next, Jesus immediately summoned the crowd with his disciples and continued to make God’s case that the cross yields life. Together both tell me that entering the gospel as my personal story is two steps forward for each one back, those moments when I allow the deception to control me.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus, become aware that the Trinity is confident in you. Ask Peter to present you to Jesus because Peter knows how you are attracted to Jesus and ready to rebuke Jesus. Tell Jesus how you are attracted to him and tell Jesus what moves you to rebuke him, to think your ways are better than his ways. Ask Jesus to help you accept Jesus as our crucified Messiah, who turns much of our human wisdom on its head. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave us to grace our human knowing and learn Jesus better and to allow his story to become our story.

1. Mark 4.41.
2. Mark 1.25.
3. Paul S. Minear,
The God of the Gospels: A Theological Workbook, Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1988, p. 40.
Wiki-image of a gospel page depicting Jesus saving Peter before Jesus rebuked wind and sea is in the public domain.

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