Sunday, June 23, 2013

Christ Carrying the Cross


                                    12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                  

Christ carries the Cross
Assumption church
Fairfield, CT*

           
Today's first reading from the Prophet Zechariah talks of hope. In ordinary time the priest usually wears green, the color associated with hope. The prophet tells the Israelites that even in the midst of great mourning and desolation, the Lord will give them "a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness." Of course, from the earliest days Christians have looked upon Jesus as the fountain from which all hope springs.

Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus? In today's gospel the scene between Jesus and Peter is pivotal.  Chapter 9 of St. Luke's gospel is full of the miraculous deeds of Jesus. Not the least of which was the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed a great crowd. Right after that manifestation of his power, Luke says that our Lord and the disciples left the crowd of people behind and went off in solitude to pray. When they were alone, He turns to the disciples and asks, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"

The answer indicates that Jesus has made quite an impression on the people. Some say that John the Baptist has come back to life; others believe that He is Elijah, that great figure of Hebrew history who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot; and others believe that an ancient prophet like Zechariah has come back to life. But when He asks the disciples, "who do you say that I am," Peter answers, "The Christ of God." Peter's expression of faith means that he has come to regard Jesus as the long awaited Messiah who has come to save His people.

It's one of the mysteries of the gospels that every time an Apostle speaks we can almost imagine ourselves speaking. In fact, whenever our Lord speaks to them, he seems to be speaking to us. "But who do you say that I am?" What would our answer be? We know that many regard Him as a good teacher although His teachings may no longer be relevant in our modern age. Others see Him as a kind of social worker who went about doing good works. Of course, they find it hard to believe that any of these works could have been miraculous, and they try to find purely natural explanations. In other words, He was a man just like us. Indeed, a best-selling novel claims that He even married and had children of His own.

I think that one of the reasons why the film, "The Passion of the Christ," caused such controversy was not because of the violence depicted but because we do not like the idea that our Lord had to suffer and die. We know that the Apostles didn't like it either. After Peter's confession of faith, our Lord tells them,

            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.

After all the wonderful things He had done, this was shocking news. Even more shocking was what He said next,

            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.

To save our lives, to find true happiness, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and be willing to willing to give up our lives for the sake of others. Our ethnic, national, and even religious origins do not matter. To paraphrase St. Paul in the letter to the Galatians:

We are neither Jew nor Greek,
Amercan nor Mexican,
Slave nor free,
Rich nor poor,
Male nor female,
Liberal nor conservatuve.

Jesus asked “who do the crowds say I am?” If the crowds were to ask who we are, what would we say? Would we identify ourselves as Christians? Or, to put it another way, if someone were to accuse us of being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us? Each of us has to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. 

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Reading 1. Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Reading II. Galatians 3: 26-29
Gospel. Luke 9: 18-24 (who do you say that I am?). 

*Image by Melissa DeStefano

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