Sunday 24 August 2014

Get behind me, Satan!

Had no idea about the link between the first reading of today, 21st Sunday A, and the gospel, but Matteo Balla provided the key: it is the key that is taken from the steward Shebna and given to Eliakim, and the power to open and to close. In the gospel, Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, with the power to bind and to loose.

I reflected instead on what is going on in the heart of Jesus. Caesarea Philippi is in the Golan Heights, which is Syria, and therefore somewhat away from the territory of the Herod who was getting too interested in Jesus. Jesus has begun realizing that not all are with him, certainly not the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the Herodians. Even his own family - including his mother - do not understand what he is about, and come to take him away, thinking he is beside himself. And of course his disciples do not fully understand him, even though they are with him. Does he understand himself? He does; but he is faced with the temptation, the three that he faced in the desert, and now repeated through the mouth of Peter: What nonsense are you talking about, going up to Jerusalem to suffer and to die; this will never be. And Jesus is strong in his reaction, strong in the way that one is strong when one is facing the temptation oneself: Get behind me, Satan.

Soon after, we find him seeking a lonely place to spend the night in prayer, accompanied by three of his closest: traditionally understood to be Mount Tabor, the mount of transfiguration. And there he is consoled by the Father, and borne witness to once again. There his way forward is also confirmed: Moses and Elijah talk to him about the exodus he is about to undertake.

In the face of opposition, inner turbulence, and the prospect of death, Jesus turns to his Father, and prays, spends time in prayer.

In the face of the atrocious happenings in Syria and Iraq, what is a Christian to think, feel, do? Helplessness is a dominant feeling, and sometimes simply a shrug of the shoulders, or else a hope that it will all go away, and at any rate, it is something far away, something that does not affect me, us, here, now. Or sometimes there is anger, and great concern, but only for my tribal group, my co-religionists. And sometimes I am provoked only when terror and atrocity and death touches me somewhat more closely, or touches someone from my group, someone I can identify with.

Pope Francis says: pray. Does that seem a weak answer? And yet, I was thinking this morning, this is a choice. We do feel helpless, but we do have a choice: to love or not to love; to have faith or to not have faith; to hope or to give in to despair. Christians have many times in the past stood up for what they believe in ways that are completely unChristian, with hatred and violence. Jesus' whole point is faith, hope and charity. To live every moment and every happening with faith, hope and love: that is the point, that is the challenge. Then, whether I live or die, that is, especially in the eyes of God, quite secondary. Beautiful to live, but even more important how I live. Sad to die, but even more important how I face death.

With surrender comes courage. The courage that Jesus found on Tabor, the courage that allowed him to set his face towards Jerusalem. One has given up total control over one's life; one has realized that one's existence in the hands of Someone Else; one has made the determined choice to love, to hope, to believe; one is then able to celebrate. Then when someone writes a gospel that equates the cross with the glory, it is not so surprising after all.

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