WHO ARE WE IN JESUS’ EYES?
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time(C)
June 20, 2010
The past two Sundays have been a reminder of how God revealed Himself to be. He revealed Himself via a story, an unfolding history that came to us both through the written and oral tradition of the so-called mirabilia Dei (the wonders of God). In the Solemnity of the Trinity of three Sundays back, we saw God in action as Giver (the Creator Father), as Gifted (the Son given for us and for our salvation), and as Gifting (the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son), who still dwells in our midst and continues to lead us in our journey towards the fullness of salvific truth.
Last, last Sunday, we were reminded of God’s real presence to His Church and people, in and through the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we come to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” both the fullness of the Parousia (Christ’s coming at the end of time, with a capital P), and His parousia, that is, his current, contemporary “presence,” though veiled under the appearance of bread and wine. Past, present, and future converge, and are comprised, made real, and rendered intimately personal, by one and the same sacrament of the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord.
Today, the Lord takes the level of intimacy and the closeness of God with his people one notch higher. He asks his disciples a personal question. Jesus was then making waves all over. Having fed thousands not only with material bread, but also with a lot of spiritual fare through his teachings, crowds were following him wherever he went. People talked around and each one saw in him the figure of king (Son of David), priest, and the much-awaited promised one (Son of Man). All three “messianic traditions” had their own adherents. At the same time, the religious and political leaders were getting very wary of this “upstart” from Galilee, where nothing good was expected to come, but who nevertheless, was becoming very popular and known all over Judea.
In the midst of such a growing public identity and persona, Jesus, whilst in solitude and prayer, takes his disciples into a huddle and asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples’ answers reflected all three trends mentioned with regards to how people perceived him to be. People saw him mainly as a prophet, if we go by the answers of the disciples. But he was not interested in what people thought of him. In this moment of intimacy and closeness with his disciples, Jesus wanted to know how his disciples perceive him to be. Jesus wanted to see the corresponding depth of intimacy, knowledge, and closeness his disciples had for their master. “But who do you say that I am?” It was Peter, the recognized and de facto leader, who spoke on others’ behalf: “You are the Christ of God.”
Christ’s question led to a deep reflection on the part of the disciples. The fruit of that reflection led to a confession – a proclamation, a profession, a solemn declaration of Peter’s and the close-in disciples’ faith in him whom crowds, along with the political and religious leaders, mistakenly understood to be an earthly and military savior.
Jesus was revealing who he really was. He showed himself more than just a prophet, for “he spoke with authority.” He agreed somewhat enigmatically, that he was the awaited Messiah, but at the same time spoke about his suffering, death, and eventual resurrection. Though he accepted being the Son of Man, he nevertheless referred to himself in images that reminded people about Isaiah’s suffering servant, contrary to popular expectations.
But the real focus was not on who he was. Neither was it on who people thought he was. And Jesus went far beyond knowing what his disciples thought of him.
For Jesus’ disciples as it is now for us, what is now important is who we are as his disciples. The focus shifts to us now who are his followers. Who are we in Jesus’ eyes?
Our reflection, and the consequent proclamation-profession of faith as the disciples did, ought to lead to a deeper realization. Nay more, it ought to lead to action. Faith as acceptance of truths, as acknowledgment of who God is for us, necessarily has to spill over into life. Acceptance of God has to lead to performance. “Faith without works is dead,” St. James tells us. Intellective and fiduciary faith ought to become performative faith.
The discussion now shifts from how we see the Lord, to how the Lord sees us who claims to be his disciples. Our reflection now veers towards the direction of faith-context and away from mere faith-content. The faith that we profess (fides quae creditur) ought now to become the faith by which we live (fides qua creditur). “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and come follow me.”
In these highly politically charged times, when opposing camps continue to sling mud against each other, and when each one hijacks even moral issues, and turns them into political issues for more political mileage, when Church leaders and pastors speak in the name of moral truth and are accused of engaging in partisan politics, we stand at the heart of what Christian faith is meant to be. It is not meant to be mere declaration and profession of static – if pietistic – truths that have nothing to do with concrete personal, social, and political life. Faith-content must cross over into the realm of faith-context – the concrete context of our lives in society which includes business, politics, and every other arena of human activity precisely because, being human, they all fall within the ambit of God’s moral law.
In America, there are more than 63 million Catholics, as in the Philippines, there are more than 70 millions. In 1958, I am told, 78 % attended Mass regularly in America on Sundays. Now they are down to 25 %. In the Philippines, ironically the only predominantly Christian country in the Far East, the regular attendees never go beyond 20%. In this so-called Christian country, to our national shame, elections have always been an “immoral and expensive process” (PCP-II), fraught with rampant cheating and killings, this last one not excluded. On top of this, the country belongs to the 12 most corrupt countries all over the world. In both countries, faith as declaration and profession of what one believes has been mostly relegated to the inner sanctums of churches and houses of worship. Faith as lived “performance” has been reduced to pious and “churchy” activities like putting up or helping out at “soup kitchens” and/or attending escapist and equally privatistic prayer rallies, listening to shallow teachings that capitalize on false hopes of material blessings and earthly prosperity, courtesy of bombastic, evangelistic preachers who now go by the faddish, and very popular title “servant-leaders.” Faith as personal is deeply embedded in the collective psyche. But faith’s social component, faith as expressed in social responsibility, faith shown in a willingness and readiness to work for the common good, even to the point of personal sacrifice, is totally out of the picture. Faith as having something to say to politics does not register to hard-core politicians who think that God ought to remain only in Church, to be talked of only on Sundays, only in Church. As a people, we Filipinos have missed the “Church’s best-kept secret” – the social teachings that put emphasis on the social dimension of faith. No wonder the most corrupt, the most publicly known crooks, the most famous tax evaders, and even coup plotters, and the kings and queens of showbiz – and alas, even those of us from the ranks of the men of the cloth – can go their merry ways practically undisturbed by so much abject poverty, corruption, and rampant moral decay in Philippine society.
Who are we, then, in Jesus’ eyes? St. Paul knew it all along: “through faith, you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (2nd Reading) Who are we meant to be in Jesus’ eyes? Call it what you will … images, projections, transparencies, even PPS presentations … they all boil down to one and the same thing … “No longer I, no, not I, but Christ who lives in me!” Like Christ …. that is how he looks at us. Like Christ … that is who we ought to be.