24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 18, 2018.
Is 50:5-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
Who do we say that Jesus is?
Who do you say that I am?
NBA superstar Stephen Curry had a wonderful time in his brief visit to the Philippines a few weeks ago. Shortly after his departure, it was reported on social media that he had said the following about the Filipinos, “You know why Filipinos are stupid? Because they voted a killing president,” This understandably angered many people, especially his fans, who denounced, mocked and ridiculed him. However, it was soon discovered that this alleged statement was nothing but fake news and that Curry had never said anything like that. In a few hours, a single fake news item had caused him his devoted fans and good reputation and had earned him condemnation and insult even from his fans.
Fake news, the telling of lies about a person(s), or what they say or do, for whatever motive, is not a new thing. There was also fake news about Jesus, His words and actions, during His earthly life that affected how people responded to Him. The Jews denied His divinity, “How can this man say that He came down from heaven?”(Jn 6:42) He was called a “drunkard and glutton.”(Lk 7:34) He was believed to “have a demon” (Jn 8:52) and considered an agent of the devil, “By the prince of demons He casts out demons.”(Mt 9:34) Some called Him a Samaritan and denounced His teaching, “He is teaching disgusting doctrines.” He was depicted as an enemy of the State, “He is perverting our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar.”(Lk 23:2)
It became imperative in the face of all the fake news about Jesus that His followers should really know Jesus. The disciples must know the fake news about Jesus in their time; hence Jesus’ first question in today’s Gospel, “Who do people say that I am?” Assuredly, there was so much fake news about Him: “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” In order to reject this fake news of their time, it is more necessary for the disciples to also know who Jesus Christ is and not just know about Him; hence Jesus’ second question to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Without true knowledge of Jesus Christ we too will succumb to the fake news about Him in our times and end up abandoning Him. Secondly, we can spread this fake news too by our words and actions and lead others astray instead of leading them to Jesus. Hence, we must know Jesus Christ today and not just about Him and grow constantly in this knowledge.
How then can we know Jesus Christ and grow in this necessary knowledge?
First, we must believe in all that God has revealed in the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church. The Father reveals His Son Jesus Christ to us through the Scriptures, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him to me.”(Jn 6:44) Peter can say to Jesus, “You are the Christ” simply because “it is the Father who reveals this to Him.”(Mt 16:17) It is so important to get this point down in our times when we can pick and choose which parts of divine revelation and morals to believe and adhere to and which to reject based on our personal taste and political acceptability. We ignore the fact that believing a single fake news about Jesus and His words and actions is enough to undermine our faith in Him.
This believing in the fullness of divine revelation alone is not enough. Second, we must allow our faith in divine revelation transform us and our actions so that we act on what is believed always and do good works always for the sake of Christ. St. James reminds us that ours is not just a mere intellectual faith but one that is expressed in good works that touches the lives of others, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Knowledge of Christ also comes through our faith inspired good works because our contact with others is always an encounter with Christ who assures us that “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do onto Me.” We can never really know Christ when we ignore the demands of Gospel living or selectively choose when to act and when not to act on what we believe.
Third, we know Christ through our life of prayer that listens to God as much as we speak to God. The psalmist says, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice in supplication.” God hears and listens to our prayers but do we hear and listen to His voice? Are we even aware of God’s desires to draw us closer to Jesus? Aren’t we so fixated on petitioning for our needs that our prayer is nothing close to the loving conversation with God that it should be? Revealing our hearts to Him and opening our hearts to receive His own self-revelation nurtures our intimate knowledge of Jesus.
Lastly, we know Christ only when we are ready to follow, obey, and serve Him even to the point of suffering for Him. Believing in divine revelation, constantly living the demands of the Gospel, and having heart-to-heart prayer moments is not enough to know who Jesus Christ is until we are ready to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.” We are condemned to a mere head knowledge of Jesus Christ when we are reluctant to suffer something and “lose our lives for His sake and that of the gospel.”
The First Reading depicts the suffering servant who remains steadfast in following God and bringing God’s message to the rebellious people despite all the insults and rejections that he experiences. He can do this only because he knows who God is, “The Lord God is my help… God is near who upholds my right… The Lord God is my help.” Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of this suffering servant because He knows His Father so perfectly and was faithful to His mission to lead others to the Father without flinching in the face of suffering and persecution from His enemies.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is today so much fake news about Jesus Christ, His teaching and actions simply because we do not know Jesus Christ as we should know Him and we are not growing in our knowledge of Jesus. This is painfully evident in the clergy sexual abuse scandals rocking the Church today and the hierarchical cover-up and deafening silence. Let us reflect on this briefly.
We are so busy picking and choosing the elements of divine revelation and Church teaching that we want to embrace and live out those that are not politically correct. How else can one explain the widespread and pervasive homosexual activity within the clergy and the advancement of homosexual predators in the Church? Have we really stressed the need to have our faith transform every part of our lives including our sexuality or haven’t we encouraged a certain compartmentalization by which we think that our perverted sexual activity does not have a bearing or consequences in our personal life and ministerial duties? Is our prayer life deep enough to grasp God’s loving desire and persistent invitation for deeper conversion or haven’t we fallen for the “God made me gay” mantra? We are so afraid of the wrath of the secular media that we cannot suffer for the truth and rightly name homosexuality within the clergy as the root cause of this scandal. Instead we cowardly blame it on clericalism and rigidity. Our failure and reluctance to speak and accept the difficult truth is a clear sign that we are far from true knowledge of Jesus, the King of Mercy, and this also explains why we will always be plagued by scandals.
The effect of the fake news about Jesus from within and outside the Church is that many souls are being led away from Jesus. The challenge for us today is to first know Jesus Christ intimately and personally so that we can reject fake news and spread the Good News of His Gospel and His saving grace and mercy. Our true knowledge of Jesus Christ, not just our knowledge about Him, will lead us to experience the power of His grace and mercy to break the bonds of all sins and renew the Church, His beloved but wounded bride.
St. Louis de Montfort rightly wrote that “Jesus is not well known because Mary is not well known.” No one knows Jesus like Mary who believed every single thing that was revealed to her about Jesus Christ and His saving mission. She embraced this word so completely that the eternal Word became flesh in her womb. She was a woman whose faith and good works touched the life of many like St. Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon, Hannah, the servants at the wedding feast of Cana, and off course, the disciples of Jesus. She prayed with perfect disposition to God while she remained attentive to His will as she counsels us to do, “Do whatever He tells you.” She freely chose to serve, obey, and follow Jesus to Calvary when all the disciples abandoned Him. She too, like Jesus and with Jesus, was resolute in fulfilling her God-giving mission without paying any attention to fake news. In our time where this is also fake news about Mary and her role in salvation history, let us know and love Mary more that we too can share in her own journey of faith to that intimate knowledge of Jesus.
Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, shed His blood for every single soul, including those who are being led astray today by all the fake news that abounds because we do not know Jesus as we should. As He infuses His blood into our souls in this Mass, He also asks us today, “Who do you say that I am?” No matter the past, let us begin today to know Him more so that we can reject all fake news, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and lead souls back to Him.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!