Category Archives: Ordinary Time

JESUS HIMSELF IS OUR SPIRITUAL FOOD

18th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE B
5th AUGUST 2018.
(John 6:24-35)
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

The First reading telling how God fed His people in the desert with manna is regarded as the classic example of God’s care for His people.

Jesus too fed people who were hungry as we heard about last Sunday. But the Gospel makes it clear that the Son of Man did not come down from above merely to satisfy physical hunger. He came to give heavenly bread that people will eat and never become hungry. The bread in question at this time is primarily the teaching given by Jesus. Only at a later point does it refer to the Eucharist.

Often in his preaching Christ uses images of food, particularly bread, to emphasise our need for spiritual as well as physical nourishment. He warned his listeners about having too much of a preoccupation with their material needs – or what they imagined to be their needs – and he criticised them for not being attentive enough to their more crucial need to be well-fed spiritually.

“Do not work for food that cannot last,” he says here, “but work for food that endures to eternal life – the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you”.
He spoke in a similar way at the outset of his ministry when he rejected the devil’s temptations and said that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

There are two conclusions that I would like to draw from these kinds of statements made by Jesus.

Firstly; not to exaggerate what he said. Jesus never made out that our ordinary physical or material needs are irrelevant, or that they’re not real needs.
It’s not being unspiritual to acknowledge that we all need to eat. And it’s not being selfish to try to gain a certain minimum of security and stability in our material circumstances.

For most of us, if we’re caught up in great anxiety or upheaval in the outward circumstances of our lives, it’s much more difficult to pray and to concentrate on God in any sense, and at those times we often have to be content with whatever brief, distracted prayers we can manage.

What Jesus tended to warn his listeners against wasn’t the idea of maintaining a certain minimum level of stability in their material circumstances. More often he warned against the temptation to make the material side of life the whole of life; making it an end in itself; getting over-concerned about money, possessions, or about the level of comfort that we have; hankering after a luxurious style of living; that might exclude any time or thought for our spiritual needs.

According to Christ’s way of seeing things those sorts of total preoccupation alienate us from God. They stifle the spiritual side of our nature and they erode the bonds of care and compassion that we’re supposed to have towards other people and their needs.

And then there’s a second aspect of this Sunday’s gospel reading we can look at, because Jesus does more here than stick up for spirituality in some vague sense. When they ask him how they can get this bread that he’s talking about; bread that endures to eternal life, Jesus answers: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.

To enter into friendship with Christ, to grow in knowledge of Christ, is like a path we have to walk along if we want to come to a full, truthful knowledge of God.

Finding God – the way we understand it – isn’t just a product of our human imagination or capacity for creativity. We find the true God revealed in the person of Christ, and faith is the attitude of acceptance of what’s revealed by Christ.
And it’s through this attitude of acceptance towards the person and work of Christ – acknowledging him for who he says he is – that we’re led into a life of closer communion with God. Without Christ’s ministry and preaching, without his Passion and death, we would know a certain amount about God, but we would still be waiting for the most important facets of God’s nature to be revealed to us.

We must distinguish between faith and trust. Though they are closely linked they are not the same thing. The person, who firmly believes with strong faith, trusts completely. But if one does not have perfect trust in God, their faith will be faint as well.
Faith and trust in God will nourish us at all times, but especially during times of trial. It’s not we who keep the faith; it’s the faith that keeps us.

John wrote his gospel in the first place because he was convinced that in Jesus, God has been revealed to us in a final, full and unsurpassable way. He wrote in the hope that as many of his readers as possible would be led to the same conclusion.

So these are just a couple of the lessons we can draw from this part of Jesus’ discussion with the people who are questioning him about the “bread of life”.
Jesus repeats what is a frequent theme of his, trying to persuade people not to become mired in the preoccupations of material life. And at the same time he goes further, insisting on his own unique vocation to lead humanity towards knowledge of, and communion with, the true God.

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What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 2017 (29 Oct)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the words of Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
To which the answer, taken from today’s Gospel, is: Everything!!

We are created in the image of God who is love. Our hope, our joy, our happiness and our peace in this life are to be found and are centred in this one truth; that we are created in the image of love that we may love and know that we are loved.

When the Pharisee (who, like all Pharisees, was an expert in “the law and the prophets”) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus summarises the entire law in his simple and profound reply:
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul and we must love each other as we love ourselves.

Essentially, Jesus’ reply is quite orthodox. There’s nothing radical in the two commandments he quotes. The commandment to love God comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) and the command to love our neighbour comes from The Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). What is radical is that Jesus is saying emphatically that we can’t separate loving God from loving our neighbour.

The Pharisees professed great love for God in their obedience to the law but they demonstrated scarce love for the people; they were arrogant, aloof and critical.

Jesus is not throwing out the 613 commandments. He is simply saying that all the other commandments hang on the Greatest Commandment: love God and love your neighbour.

The love for God and neighbour are intently linked. Religious and political extremists of any persuasion who harm their neighbour in the name of God are about as far from God and the truth as can be imagined. They are testimony to the presence and reality of evil in the world.

This love that Jesus talks about is not some fleeting, fickle, self-indulgent emotion. It’s a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third.

First, he said, we must love God; starting with the heart.
When we desire what God desires, we love with our heart.
When we cherish and actively try to understand God’s love for us and the world, we love with our mind.

When we joyfully live our lives following those desires and that understanding, we love with our soul; with our whole being.

This is an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that constantly influences and directs our actions, our desires and our thoughts.
We can’t grow and sustain that relationship if we relegate it to an hour of worship on a Sunday. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, is fulfilling and rewarding in proportion to our commitment to it.

Opening our heart and mind to an intimate relationship with God can be as challenging as it is in human relationships. We find it difficult exposing and admitting our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires; even to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some find the Sacrament of Reconciliation daunting.

Trust is the core of our relationships with God and with each other.

In our human relationships Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love our self.

So this would imply that if we are not able to love ourselves, we are not able to love our neighbour; and this obviously would seriously undermine our relationship with God.

In terms of self-love, Jesus is not for a moment referring to self-centred, conceited vanity that excludes love of anyone other than self.

The self-love Jesus is talking about is seeing ourselves, warts and all, as God’s beloved.

We love ourselves because we are loved; we are created in the image of God who is love. Nothing else is relevant.

This self-love is not dependent on our physical size, fat or thin; our intellect, bright or dim; age, old or young; physical condition, healthy or infirm; physical features, attractive or plain, athletic or disabled; our wealth, affluent or destitute; sexual orientation, gay or straight; our careers, success or failure; our popularity, liked or disliked.

Warts and all, we are God’s precious creation. We are loved as we are.
When we embrace that understanding of God’s love for us, we learn to love ourselves.
Through our numerous human differences we glimpse the vastness and diversity of God’s creation that is so much more than just me and my world.

Some years ago a young man in our parish asked me why he had not been born perfect like everyone else in his family. He’d been born with a physical disability. He was kind and gentle, humble and funny, intelligent and caring. It wasn’t difficult to see the image of God in his less than perfect body.

When we focus on what we don’t love about ourselves, wanting to be someone else, when we can’t find the love of God in ourselves, we become deaf and blind to the needs of others. If fact we share the same space as those who are blinded by the perception of their own brilliance.

The way we treat our neighbour then could be a reflection of our self-love.
It’s often easier to express our love for our neighbour who is far away; those caught up in political persecuted or abject poverty or those suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.

But the real test is with those closest to us; our families, friends, colleagues, parishioners; the waiter, shop assistant and hungry beggar. Do they see us as being kind and gentle, generous and compassionate, patient and considerate? Do they see the joy of our certainty of God’s love for us in our eyes and in our words; and in our actions?

The more love we carry in our hearts for God and our neighbour, the better we reflect the image of God that we each carry within us.

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017
Cycle A
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the start of the Easter Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. In John’s account of the Last Supper, which forms the gospel reading tonight, John makes the point that the Church has to make Christ present not only sacramentally, in his Body and Blood, but also in the spirit of service and surrendering of power which Jesus symbolises by washing his disciples feet.

In the other three gospels, the description of the Last Supper was modelled partly on what the early Christians were already doing in their Eucharistic celebration. And what they were doing was modelled, of course, on the actual event of the Last Supper itself, and Jesus’ words over the bread and wine: “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. “Do this in memory of me”.

In John’s gospel, that particular aspect of the Eucharist is dealt with in Chapter Six, where Jesus gives his long discourse on the living bread. “The bread I give is my flesh, for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in them”.                                                                                                                                  This evening John doesn’t mention anything about bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. He uses the event of the Last Supper to emphasise another facet, or another dimension, of the Eucharist.                                                                                                                                                                     John’s version of Lord’s Supper describes Jesus washing his disciple’s feet – and informing them by this gesture that he’s the Messiah who’s come to serve rather than be served. And, just as important, he’s telling the disciples that they’ve got to do the same if they want to think of themselves as his followers.

John’s point in putting that incident right in the middle of the Last Supper illustrates how we can put our belief in the Eucharist into practice. The meaning of the Eucharist is lived out in practice when we all treat each other with that attitude of humility, self-emptying, service and love that Jesus himself demonstrated.

John never got tired of making the point that if our devotion towards God is real; it will express itself in devotion towards our neighbour, an active dedication of ourselves to our fellow human beings. “If God has loved us, so we must love each other”, he says, elsewhere in his writings.                                                                                                          It’s this aspect of our life in communion with God which John wants to emphasise in his account of the Last Supper as well.

For the true Christian, who is genuinely open to God’s influence in their life; taking part in the Eucharist is conditional on this attitude of service and humility – this willingness to take up a stance in life which involves performing menial or servant-like tasks for each other. Washing people’s feet in Jesus’ time was of course a task that only a servant or lowly slave would perform.                                                                                                            According to John, no Christian should approach the Eucharistic table, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, without this prior commitment.                                                                                                                          At the same time, none of us should go away from the table, having received communion, without having this commitment strengthened and reinforced. We have to find the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in the washing of feet. They’re two sides of a single reality.                                                                                                                     Well, the question is: what reality? Why does John say that we as followers of Christ have to take on this servant-like commitment?                                                                                                                                                           The answer is that it’s a reflection of God’s nature, God’s character, and so it’s something that we take on as we gradually realise or grow into the vocation we all have to be like God.

By the time John’s gospel was written Jesus was clearly seen as being divine. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he said. So the gesture of the foot-washing demonstrates a vital aspect of God’s nature – the fact that he chooses to reveal himself in powerlessness and servant hood.                                                                          God shows himself – to make the point another way – by reversing the ordinary human values and customs, where important and powerful people demonstrate their superiority with all kinds of badges of privilege and ways of being treated in a servile way by their subordinates. Peter shows how far he still holds to that way of thinking by his embarrassment and by the objections he raises to Jesus’ action. ‘You shall never wash my feet.”

Christ is present in the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and when we celebrate Mass together we are making him present in that way. But Christ must also be made present in real life, by a concrete commitment to servant hood. We make Christ present when we renounce our own pride and self-interest and respond to the needs, and especially to the suffering and the distress, of others. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us not to separate those two aspects of the Eucharist and always to see them as belonging together.

That’s why out of the four gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s especially John’s account that belongs within the Easter Triduum: it belongs especially in the context of Christ’s journey to the Cross. And it’s partly for that reason that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t have a formal ending – it remains open and unfinished, and picks up again tomorrow, with the remembrance of Christ’s Passion and Death.

So the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet, and the Path to the Cross, are all part of a single mystery, and they all cast light on each other.

These are the realities of our faith which we can bear in mind and reflect on as we come together once again to re-enact and celebrate this year’s Paschal Triduum.

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper

24 March 2016
Dcn Les Ruhrmund

Tonight we start the Easter Triduum about which I spoke in my homily this past weekend. The next three days starting from this evening’s sunset are the most important and holy days in the liturgical year. </p

The first reading tonight recalls the first Jewish Passover supper before their escape from captivity in Egypt. This is a defining moment in the history of Israel and is faithfully remember by the Jewish people throughout the world each year in the Hebrew month of Nissan (April this year).
It was to celebrate the Jewish Passover that Jesus and his disciples met in the Upper Room and that night was a defining moment in our salvation history.It was at this Passover meal, the Last Supper, that Jesus gave us the gift of the Blessed Sacrament; the gift of his Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist; a gift that is given as lovingly today as it was over 2000 years ago. It was also on this night that Jesus ordained the first priests, the apostles, to ensure that this glorious and miraculous gift of himself would be available to all humankind, to every generation, until he returns at the end of time. The Last Supper was the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and every Mass makes the Last Supper present to us in our time.
Jesus’ sacrifice, death and resurrection are not bound by time and space and can never be ended or repeated; it’s eternal. When we gather around the altar for Mass, during the consecration, the priest speaks as if Christ himself were holding the host; he acts in the person of Christ and the Last Supper is made present to us at this moment in time.
Through the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament we are able to encounter the Risen Lord personally; present to us in consecrated bread and wine. This is the most important, central and sacred act of worship that we know as Christians.

At that Last Supper, Jesus did something else quite remarkable. He got down on his knees before each of his disciples and washed their feet. In this act of love, charity and humility he demonstrates through his actions the commandment that is proclaimed throughout the Gospel: love one another as I have loved you. 
Remember this is the same group that not long before had argued about who among them was the greatest. As someone has put it, “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”

The disciples I’m sure were paralyzed with shock when Jesus knelt before them.  A Jewish free man washed nobody’s feet.  In all the Scriptures it had never happened.  Even when angels visited Abraham, he provided water for their feet, but they did their own washing.

One of the most obvious examples of the power of servanthood was a young Albanian girl named Agnes. At the age of 18 years she left home and entered a convent in Ireland to learn English with a view to becoming a missionary in India. She became a school teacher at the Loreto convent in a neighbourhood in central Kolkata, and at the age of 34 years was appointed headmistress. A few years later while on a train travelling to her annual retreat, she received what she referred to as ‘a call within the call”. She says she was told “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”

She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, at the age of 38, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border.

We know Agnes, of course, as Mother Teresa, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonised on 4 September this year. She’s an incredible role model for us of servant leadership.

Gene Wilkes, in his book, Jesus on Leadership, writes these very meaningful words: “Jesus did not come to gain a place of power. He did not come to defeat his human enemies. He did not come to overthrow an unjust government. Jesus came to show us the heart of God. His entire message and ministry on earth was to show selfish, power-hungry people like you and me what love looks like. As he knelt before Judas, Jesus showed us a love that no human can conceive on his own: a love that is brutally honest about what is going on but still kneels before us to lay down his life so we can be free from the sin that infects us. Jesus loves you as he loved Judas.”

The bread and the cup are important to us as followers of Christ. But so are the towel and the basin. Christ has called us to a life of serving others. That is how the world will know that we are his disciples.

Deacon Les 24 March 2016

PRAYER OF LAMENTATION

30th Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle B
25th OCTOBER 2015.
Mark 10: 46-52.
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

Every now and then we come across people knocked for six by some terrible disaster or mishap in their lives. In their extreme pain they are often incapable of saying even one word about what they are feeling. So when we ask: ’How are you feeling?’ or ‘Is there anything I can do?’, there’s no answer. The victims of sudden disaster are simply incapable of answering anything at all. In their numb state they are feeling just too much pain and shock even to hear what is being said to them, let alone focus on what is being said.

The first step to easing our pain is for us to find a language, however slowly, to express it. In the pages of the bible we find a language to express the pain that comes from loss, and the pain that comes from fear. In fact there are many prayers of lament, many lamentations of one kind or another in the bible. What they have in common is that they are cries from the heart, shouts of suffering, groans of anguish, and even screams for help. A lamentation typically includes an invocation to God; a plea for divine intervention.
Cries, shouts and groans to God when we are in acute pain not only help us to express ourselves. They are also expressions of hope that things can change, that they can get better.
Lamentation, then, is not pessimistic, it is trustful. It refuses to remain powerless and passive in response to suffering, frustration, disappointment, or disaster.

When that poor blind beggar Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is nearby, he shouts out his lament: ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.’ Some of those surrounding Jesus resent this beggar expressing his pain and screaming out for help. They tell him to ‘shut up’. But Bartimaeus knows that if things are ever going to change for the better, he must grab the opportunity and communicate to Jesus the loss of his sight and his lack of an income to buy food, clothing, or any of the necessities of life. He has been blind nearly all his life, and he’s had enough of living in his world of total darkness, and he’s just not going to take it anymore; with the arrival of Jesus on the scene he’s convinced that his one and only chance of a brand new start is now at hand.

Bartemaeus’ cries for help stop Jesus in his tracks. He tells the bystanders to reach out to Bartimaeus by calling him over. At this command the disciples now change their tune. ‘Courage,’ they say, ‘Get up; he is calling you.’ Jesus asks him that question of all questions: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ When the blind man finds words to express his loss, Jesus heals him and commends him for expressing the faith that is saving him. Saved by faith in the power and compassion of Jesus, he uses his new sight to follow Jesus along the way, as his newest disciple.
So this marvellous healing of the blind man takes place as the result of a prayer of lamentation.
It’s a story that reminds us that in the frustration and anger over bad things that happen to us or others, or in situations of acute pain, it’s quite all right to give vent to our feelings, and even, like Bartimaeus, to yell or even scream at God for help. After all, God is big enough, great enough and good enough, to absorb all our cries of pain and all our cries for help.

But if, on the other hand, we’ve been brought up to think that the religious response to pain and suffering should be silence and passivity, then we won’t ever pray those prayers of complaint and lament to God that we need to pray. We’ll just take it all on the chin, and fall into a crumpled heap of depression and anxiety. To do that, however, means that we will be depriving ourselves of a language to state our suffering.

Instead of honestly telling God our loving Father exactly what we are thinking and feeling, our prayer will be a kind of polite and reverent game of ‘make-believe’.

We will also deprive ourselves of the possibility of help and healing from God in one form or another.
Just as Bartimaeus touched the heart of Jesus and found the comfort and healing he needed in his life-long predicament, we will also find that our prayers of lament will go straight to the heart of God.

We all have different needs; physical, financial, relational and spiritual. No matter what our need, however, Jesus can help us if we cry out to him. Be humble but confident. The world often rebukes simple faith in God, but God never does.
For a host of reasons we sometimes stop praying or we pray less frequently. Sometimes if we do pray, we neglect to ask for anything for ourselves. What stops us from praying? Fear, anger, guilt, broken hearts, temptation, apathy. We do not deserve to be happy. We are afraid of holiness. We are angry at God for what appears to be unanswered prayers. We are tempted away from prayer by worldly or sinful things. We stop caring about our relationship with Jesus.

It is time to put a stop to all that. It is time to call out to Jesus here and now.

Loud and clear. To once again contemplate what we are missing in life. To hear the voice of Jesus ask us — “What do you want me to do for you?” And we must be able to respond.

Bartimaeus said that he wanted to see.

What is it that we want to see in our lives?

Ask for it. Have faith!

ONLY HAVE FAITH

Mark: 5: 21-43
13th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
Cycle B.
28th June 2015.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

“Do not be afraid; only have faith.” What does that mean to a family who has lost a child to an incurable disease after 4 years of trying to keep her alive, whatever the cost? What does it mean to a wife and mother who has to explain to her young children that their father and sole breadwinner will not be coming home having been killed in a taxi high jacking in Mannenberg? And so I can go on.
It is far easier said than done; “to not be afraid; and only have faith!”

The importance of faith is obvious in Mark’s two stories in today’s Gospel, because they give us valuable insight into the character of Jesus. They tell us of someone who feels acutely the desperate pain of others, and who does not disappoint those who approach him for help.

It is solely because of faith that the woman is healed when she touches Jesus, and when Jairus approaches Jesus and thereafter He raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. What does this say to us about our faith today and about the miracles that we also need, especially the ones that don’t seem to happen? Just because we don’t “get what we ask for” exactly the way we want, doesn’t mean that a miracle has not happened. In my opinion, I think that in order to match faith with reality, we need to expand our concept of faith and also what we consider a miracle.

Faith does not mean that God will do what we ask like a Mr. or Ms. Fix-it-right -now, on demand… and just the way we expect. No, faith means that God will act on our behalf, for our own good and the good of others. Whether it is one of life’s literal or figurative storms, a serious illness, a complex problem, the closing in of the death of a loved one or whatever; God will help us through it. That is faith. That is where miracles happen.
Faith then, to me, is that God will provide for all we need, mostly in unexpected ways and through unexpected sources.

Holding on to God rather than on to the outcome we want is what is hard for us. We want the murky waters of life to become clear; sometimes they just don’t! We have persevere to see and work through the muck and feel the solidness of what God provides as an alternative. Searching for alternatives is not being a Pollyanna, it is believing that God will provide.

Maybe like Jairus, we sometimes seem to wait too long to ask Jesus for his help. How many doctors, exorcists, or remedies had Jairus tried first? Like Jairus, sometimes a major crisis is required before we break through the restraints of apathy, fear, or pride and ask Jesus for help; and even then sometimes we feel it is too late!

Are we like the un-named woman who has reached a stage of desperation; a point of daring without worrying about the consequences, to break through the crowd to deliberately touch Jesus with faith and trust? Sometimes we are like the crowds and mourners who accept a world that appears absent of the power of God — a power that can turn predictability and logic on its head. We tend to forget that nothing is impossible with God — and this story proves that point.

The raising of Jairus’ daughter, like the raising of Lazarus in Saint John’s gospel, is meant to bring up the themes of life and death and life after death – themes which lie at the heart of the Christian message of salvation.

The first reading today mentions the fact that according to God’s original intention, human beings were made “imperishable”. We were destined to immortality, and this is one of the main ways that we resemble God and share his nature. The symbolic meaning of the miracles in the gospel then is that Christ has knocked down the barriers to our eternal life with God and “abolished death” as today’s Gospel Acclamation puts it. Christ has restored God’s original intention.

There are many who don’t have any religious faith or any belief in life after death who take what we might call a resigned or pessimistic attitude to death. They claim that death destroys us, wipes us out, and does not lead anywhere. But there’s no place for that attitude among us. After all, we are Christians.
We believe strongly in Jesus as the ‘Resurrection and the Life’, and in his reassuring words, ‘Don’t be afraid; only have faith’.

All of us are wounded persons – more or less. The woman who came to Jesus was deeply and even desperately wounded. But we can be wounded without showing it. We can carry such invisible wounds as feelings of rejection, failure, guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, bitterness and hostility.

All of us need healing, and all of us can be ‘wounded healers’ too. Our lives are continually touching those of others. With a little sympathy we can heal a wounded heart. With a little care we can ease a troubled mind. With a little time we can ease another’s loneliness.

So every now and then let’s stop and ask ourselves, ‘What goes out from me when I am approached or touched, through my words, my deeds, and my relationships? Am I hurting someone? Or, under God’s guidance, am I actually healing someone?”

Faith is the knowledge of God that takes us beyond a purely worldly-wisdom. When we start to live in contact with God we start to lose any notion that our lives have no purpose or meaning. It’s faith that gradually gives us a sense of the direction our lives are supposed to move in and a sense of our real vocation as God’s creatures: “to know him, love and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next”.

Who do you say I am?

24th August 2014.
Matthew: 16: 13-20
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

The lingering question to ask ourselves after listening to the selection of readings is the same one that Jesus asks the disciples in the gospel reading. His second question is, “But who do you say that I am?” In other words, who is Jesus to us in our daily lives?

This seems like a simple question, but the answer should profoundly influence who we are and what we do and not do. While it is important to know Church teaching and use it as a guideline, ultimately, we have to look deep inside ourselves for our answer rather than anywhere else.
The second question that Jesus asks invites his followers to take a personal stand and Peter answers for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus was, in fact, asking his disciples about his relationship to God, on the one hand, and his relationship to the human race, on the other.

It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.
Peter’s faith didn’t spring up overnight. It had grown since his first meeting with Jesus three years before; and that’s the way God’s influence usually works on people – changing us slowly, deepening our faith and making us more like him.
Peter’s position as the leader of the twelve Apostles is shown in many narratives in the Gospels, but they also do not spare him, clearly showing high and low points in his life.
If we were to make a thumbnail sketch of some of Peter’s characteristics based on the Gospels, I think these will highlight his personality:

A sharp self-awareness of sin (Luke 5:8)
When Peter first met Jesus he said – “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The paralysis of fear (Matthew 14:29-31)
When Peter got out of the boat and beginning to sink he cried out – “Lord, save me!”
A Blessed insight (Matthew 16:16)
Simon Peter replied – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
A temper (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying – “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Bedazzled (Matthew 17:4)
The Transfiguration: “I will make three booths here”
Mortal and weary. (Mark 14:37)
Jesus said to Peter – “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?”
Broken, fallen. (Matthew 26:69)
“But he denied it before them all, saying — I do not know the man.”
The most important question and answer. (John 21:15-17)
He said to him the third time — Do you love me? “Lord you know that I love you. Jesus said to him — Feed my sheep.”

Peter’s lowest point would be when he denied knowing Jesus and probably his finest moments would be when he recognized Jesus as Christ the Son of Man as in today’s Gospel reading, together with his declaration of love for Jesus during the last earthly interaction between them as recorded in John’s Gospel; “Do you love me?”

The interaction and dialogue that we see between Jesus and Peter today and in John’s Gospel may be the most important reason why it is upon Peter that the church will be built. In short, it has nothing to do with being worthy and everything to do with faith and the capacity to sincerely love Jesus.

At some moment, life will put the question to us, “Who do you say Jesus is?” It might be a moment of testing when we need to choose between doing right or wrong. It might be a transition time when we are leaving home to set off on our own; and we must own the choices we make. On what values and on whom will we base those choices? We will need to make our own, the faith we received from our parents and our church. Being listed on the baptismal registry of our parish is not enough.
When we do answer the question, “But who do you say I am?’ from our own conviction and exemplify our response by our actions, then we will know Jesus, no longer as an object of obligation and custom, but with the conviction Jesus looked for in his disciples.

By Peter responding — You are the Christ, the Son of the living God– he declares Jesus to be chosen; to be the Son of God — the Living God as opposed to the dead, false gods of his time.
And that should be our answer too: Jesus chosen as our Lord and saviour.
Jesus the completely human, and completely divine Son of God. God, our living God, who we should worship above all other competing forces and desires in our lives.
Putting this answer into action is to help build up the Church upon the rock that is Peter. If Peter is the rock, the foundation, then we are the small stones, the building material, helping to support the structure of the living Church.
How will we do this? What are we doing to be supportive, to be constructive, to be generous, and to love?

When called upon; let us never say – “Who me? I am not worthy! You must surely mean someone else; for I am very self-aware of my sin, I am paralyzed by fear, I have a temper, I am only mortal and often too tired, I am sometimes broken and fallen”
Well, so was Peter!
What made Peter stand out was his great love for Jesus and it is this love that changes the world and builds up the Church and builds the kingdom of God.
So let us hear both of these questions from Jesus this weekend: “Who do you say that I am?” and, “Do you love me?”
Jesus does not ask – “Will you ever sin again?” Jesus does not ask –“Will you ever be afraid again?” Jesus does not ask – “Do you promise that you will never fall on your face again in the midst of fear, darkness and danger?”

Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us—“Do you love me more than these?”
What does — these — refer to here? Whatever it is; we must look within ourselves to answer that, but regardless of what — these — refers to; what is important to Jesus is love, not the unachievable promise of human perfection and sinlessness. Jesus knows that saying YES to love is a faster track to holiness than constantly saying NO to sin and darkness. Both may lead to holiness, but saying YES to love makes for a more enjoyable ride there.
St. Augustine said – “Love God and do what you will.”
In other words, the love for Jesus and for neighbour will naturally lead to a moral and spiritually fulfilling life.