You may remember over the past few weeks, two or three times, the Scripture readings have kind of led us into reflection about who Jesus really is -- that Jesus is son of man, son of Mary, fully human, like us in every way except sin. Totally human with all the emotions, all the need to develop and grow that every human being has. But also that Jesus is son of God raised up in power, the very maker of all the heavens and the earth. Jesus, son of Mary, son of God, profound mystery, and yet this is the very foundation of our whole faith life: Jesus, son of God and son of Mary.
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
And last Sunday, in a very special way, we were led to reflect on how Jesus is yes, the son of God. Remember, Jesus had gathered the disciples and said, "Who do people say I am?" And some people said, "You're John the Baptist come back to life. You're Elijah, one of the prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah." And then Jesus said, "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter speaks up for everybody and says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Now, Peter had only known Jesus in his humanness. He had no sense of Jesus as son of God, and so this was something new for him to proclaim, and Jesus praises him. He said, "This couldn't have happened unless God had led you to understand, to know." And so he said, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of John, but no longer that. You are now Peter, rock, and on the rock of faith I will build my church."
So Peter becomes a type, symbol-like, an image of every disciple. Each of us says to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God," and on that rock of faith that's in us, knowing Jesus as the son of Mary, but also now really understanding and accepting and proclaiming, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Now in today's Gospel, we're going to be challenged, or we are challenged, because Peter, being praised as he was by Jesus for his faith insight and his willingness to proclaim it, becomes sort of presumptuous. Because Jesus has gone on now -- this follows immediately after what happened last Sunday -- and Jesus has gone on to try to instruct the disciples what it means for the son of God to come into human history, to be one of us, one like us in every way, but also still to be the son of God and to follow God's ways, not human ways.
Peter, not really understanding God's ways, thinks how foolish [it is] for Jesus to say, "The son of man is going up to Jerusalem, be handed over to his enemies, be tortured and put to death," the ignominious death of the cross. [Peter] comes up to Jesus, says, "No, no, no, that can't happen." He rebukes Jesus: "Why would you do that, allow yourself to be tortured and nailed to a cross?" And that -- it's understandable. Jesus hadn't talked about this before. This is the first time he tells his disciples what's going to happen to him.
So it's not surprising that Peter, because he had seen all the crowds following Jesus, and there's a movement to bring about a dramatic change in the life of all the people, to overthrow the Roman Empire, to bring about a revolution. There were many who were tending in that direction, and Peter was thinking Jesus has all this following and he has seemingly unlimited power to bring about extraordinary things.
But then Jesus gets very angry. He's fully human, and I think that can surprise us that Jesus does get angry. But that's a human emotion; it's not in itself a sin. It moves us to action. He's angry because Peter is totally unable to understand and accept the kind of Christ, or anointed one, Messiah, that Jesus as son of God will be in human history. Peter wants this glorious, powerful, warlike messiah who will restore the kingdom of Israel in all of its former glory when they had their warrior king, David, and his successors.
That's what Peter is looking for, and Jesus says, "Get behind me, you Satan!" That means adversary, enemy. When you talk that way, you're an enemy. "You're a scandal," he says, "a stumbling block." And I think, with a little bit of reflection, we can understand, too, why Jesus is so vehement in his rejection of what Peter says -- because he is fully human.
You know, in our first lesson today, the prophet Jeremiah, as all prophets, has suffered rejection, persecution, to the point where he's so discouraged, he's ready to reject his call to speak on God's behalf, to be a prophet. "You duped me, oh Lord, and I let myself be duped. You were too strong for me; you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter. Everyone mocks me," because he's been speaking the word of God, and so he's being rejected.
He's almost to the point where he wants to give up being this spokesperson for God, the prophet, and he says, "I say to myself, 'I will not mention God. I will not speak in God's name any longer.' " But then, the force of God's love within his heart, he says, "becomes like a burning fire in my heart. I grow weary holding it in. I cannot endure it," and so he recommits himself to this role of speaking on behalf of God. And Jesus, as a prophet, being rejected by his own people, the religious leaders especially, must feel strongly like Jeremiah did: "I'll give it all up."
See, remember the temptations in the desert. Those were real temptations. The devil says to him, "Fall down and worship me, and I give you all the kingdoms of the earth." That was a temptation, and after what we read about in Matthew's Gospel, the three temptations in the desert, he says at the end, "The devil left him for a time, but he comes back." And Jesus, in his humanness, is tempted not to do the way of God, not to follow the way of God, and that's when he says to Peter, "You're thinking in human terms, human ways, not God's ways."
There's a beautiful passage in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah where the prophet speaks again on behalf of God and says, "My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts." So God's ways are different, and that's what Jesus says to Peter: "You're following human ways, not God's ways."
God's ways are like St. Paul in writing to the church of Corinth, when he's trying to persuade the people there about God's ways. He says, "Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. That's what I'm called to do -- preach a crucified Christ, a Christ who is weak, rejected, humiliated, tortured, put to death in ignominy and shame. That's what I preach." And he says to the chosen people, many of them, "It's a scandal." See, they can't wrap their minds around the idea that God could be so weak, allow himself to be handed over to his enemies, be put to death, and so to them it is a scandal, a stumbling block.
Then he says, and to the wise, the so-called wise people, "It's just plain foolishness." Why would anybody do such a thing? You would fight back. Not the way of God; you don't overcome evil with evil, hatred with hatred, violence with violence. You transform through the power of love. God's way -- clearly a way that's higher than our ordinary human ways. "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God's ways above our ways."
So Jesus is trying to show the disciples, and show us who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, but also as a brother to us, one like us in every way. Jesus is showing us that if we're going to become full human persons, and if we're going to enter into the reign of God where all people have enough to live, everyone has a full human life, where there's peace and fullness of life for all, we have to follow God's ways.
This all becomes very clear when we allow ourselves to think through what Jesus says to Peter today and to the other disciples when he gathers them all together: "If you want to follow me and be my disciple, you must deny your very self. Take up your cross and follow me, my ways." Not power, wealth, violence, hatred, vengeance; none of those. None of those are of Christ. Peace, forgiveness and love, these are of Christ.
And so as we listen to today's Scriptures, I hope we can begin to allow ourselves to hear them deeply so that change will take place within our hearts, within our minds. We'll begin to think according to God's ways, not human ways -- God's ways outlined in the beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount. We know all those Scriptures very well. God's ways in the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. Naked, you clothed me. A stranger, you took me in."
All of these things are God's ways, and there are many times, many ways in our own lives right now where, if we're going to be the disciple of Jesus, we must change in our thinking and in what we try to do, what we try to promote. Isn't it just extremely un-Jesus like, not like Jesus, to be training a 9-year-old child how to fire a submachine gun? What are people thinking? What kind of violence are we allowing people to grow up thinking it's OK, that you might want a submachine gun to defend yourself sometime?
We're all aware of what happened last week -- that 9-year-old child being taught how to fire a submachine gun, and when it threw her back and she lost control, the person trying to teach her was shot in the head and killed. But what are we thinking when we want to train our children in that kind of violence? Could that ever be the way of Jesus? I don't think, if we listen to what Jesus says to his disciples about "taking up your cross, denying your very self and following me."
When he was being arrested and taken off to be put to death, and one of the disciples raised a sword, not a submachine gun. Jesus said, "Put it away! Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Those who live by violence will die by violence." There's one other way -- it's God's way. It's the way of love. Peace, forgiveness and love: these are of Christ. Taking in the stranger, giving food to the poor, drink to those who are thirsty, all of these things -- love, reaching out, bringing about the transformation of our world through the dynamic, fascinating power of love -- that's the way of Jesus.
"If you want to be my disciple," Jesus says to us today, "deny your very selves, take up your cross, and follow me. My way, God's way." The way to peace in our world, the way to fullness of life for all of us -- the way of Jesus. If we take some time to reflect on these Scriptures today, perhaps we can deepen that effort within ourselves to be transformed, to be changed, to be truly the disciples of Jesus, following him and following God's way -- the way of love, the way to fullness of peace.
[Homily given at St. Ann Catholic Church in Frankfort, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]