Ordinary Time 21, Year A
- The Lord is on high, but cares for the lowly (Ps. 138:6)
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” says Jesus to his disciples in Jn. 16:12-13. “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
That Jesus “strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” seems to me to indicate that the general public at that time could not yet bear the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Jesus’ identity must still be kept secret because most people then—including Peter whose subsequent rebuke of Jesus would prompt Jesus to rebuke him in return—were not ready to hear about a Messiah who would suffer. For Jesus’ contemporaries, notwithstanding the witness of the Scriptures to the contrary (cf. Lk. 24:25, 44), the Messiah could solely be one of glory and triumph—understood by and large in militaristic and nationalistic terms—and would preclude, of necessity, the cross. Thus the command to silence, as commentators have it, was issued lest Jesus’ messianic title and mission be confused with ambiguous and erroneous ideas people had about such title and mission.
With Peter and the whole church, of course, I confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Believing and convinced too with them that Jesus is the Holy One of God, I acknowledge that there is no one else to go to except Jesus, for he has the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68-69). But if one, who was declared blessed for having received and proclaimed the heavenly Father’s revelation and was made the rock foundation of the church Jesus would build, could fail to grasp the fuller sense of divine communication, I too, needless to say, can be unprepared to hear and understand fully the Word made flesh. I am still in great need of the Spirit of truth to guide me to all truth.
For one thing among others, the way I look for security in money, power and influential connections shows that I still think not as God does but as human beings do (cf. Mt. 16:23). There is much that I still cannot bear or understand in the apostle Paul’s proclamation of “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-25).
For another, while I have no problem with the Son of Man identifying himself with the deserving poor, I often doubt his real presence in undocumented aliens violating immigration laws and in prisoners convicted of crimes. I do not question the church’ condemnation of abortion and of unjust wars, but I surely find myself out of step sometimes with the church’ position regarding immigration, capital punishment, the U.S.’s entry into war with Iraq. I figure if Peter, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples could be of little faith, wavering, impulsive, cowardly, mistaken, unduly influenced, defensive, sarcastic and even nasty, so can their successors (Mt. 14:31; 26:56, 69-74; Gal. 2:11; 5:12; Phil. 3:2; cf. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “The Pauline Year” and “Peter the Rock” in the June 23-30, 2008 and August 18-25, 2008, respectively, of America). And finding, therefore, some justification for my selective hearing of the church’ teachings and my cafeteria approach to them, I unfortunately end up thereby forgetting as well the fundamental teaching embodied by Jesus that God chooses the foolish, the weak, the lowly and despised of the world to shame the wise, the strong and those highly thought of in the world, “so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:27-20).
I cannot and must not boast before God. It is therefore essential that I accept the authority of imperfect and provisional human beings like Peter, and the other apostles and disciples, of course, to open and shut, to issue authoritative teaching and point out who declares himself standing inside or outside the church. I ought to understand that by rejecting those sent by the Messiah, albeit that they seem not to have any authority whatsoever since they are neither finely dressed nor live in royal palaces, I run the risk of rejecting the Messiah himself (cf. Mt. 11:8; Jn. 1:25; Lk. 10:16). If I reject now those who today mediate salvation by speaking to us and interpreting God’s words of eternal life, I would probably end up rejecting the authority of the Risen from the dead himself (cf. Lk. 16:31).
And, in the final analysis, for me to get it fully, with the Spirit's guidance, and bear what Jesus wants to tell me so that I recognize in wonder God’s inscrutable judgments and unsearchable ways, I must take and eat and drink the lowly bread and wine as Jesus’ flesh that is true food and as his blood that is true drink. Needless to say, such grasp of the fuller sense of God’s word, which does not avoid speaking of the cross, implies that I realize that, as the Lord has done for me, I must also do (Jn. 13:12-15).