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Archdiocese of Washington

When he was the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal James Hickey told a funny story of an experience he had at Reagan National Airport, while on his way to Rome. Even though he was 75 years old and obviously dressed as a bishop, he was told by an embarrassed ticket agent that he had “fit the profile” of an international terrorist, mostly because he held a one-way ticket. As a result, he had to submit to a complete search. Although he was able to laugh about it later, at the time Cardinal Hickey was, shall we say, not amused.

This story just goes to show that none of us wants to be falsely identified or misunderstood. Jesus himself was very concerned about being properly understood, as we heard in today’s gospel. When he asked his friends about who people thought he was, he received a variety of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, maybe one of the other old prophets come back to life. Yet each of these answers, while not bad in light of the circumstances, was wrong. It was up to Peter who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Jesus wishes to be properly understood, not for his sake, but for ours. This is because our understanding of who Jesus is has profound implications for our behavior. As Christians, we seek to live in imitation of Christ. It follows, then, that the image we have of Christ will largely dictate how we shape our lives in order to conform to his. If we operate with a distorted image of Jesus, we will end up living distorted lives.

All of us here today share common beliefs about Jesus. When we recite the Creed together, we say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,” and so forth. Nevertheless, we can profess correct doctrine in Jesus and still operate with a warped image of who he is. Just consider Peter in today’s gospel. He correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah. But then, moments later, as we’ll hear in next week’s gospel, he was appalled to learn that Jesus would be tortured and executed. His image of Jesus, at that time, did not include the possibility of his suffering and death.

Like Peter, most of us operate with a limited understanding of who Jesus is. Which is understandable; as today’s second reading reminded us, the things of God are largely a mystery to us! I have a suspicion that when we meet the Lord face-to-face at the end of our lives, we will be absolutely astonished by the full reality of who he is. In the meantime, however, our image of Jesus needs to be constantly revisited, challenged, and revised.

To do this, it’s important to recall where our images of Jesus have come from. For instance, our culture shapes our image. I once read how Victorian England was scandalized by a painting, called “The Carpenter’s Shop,” that depicted Jesus and the rest of the Holy Family in Joseph’s workplace. They were portrayed as rustic, simple, and poor- just as Scripture and historians tell us they were. Yet the class-conscious Victorian English refused to accept Jesus as portrayed in such a way. Their culture had a warped understanding of Jesus. You and I need to be on guard for how our materialistic, faced-paced, self-centered, and superficial culture might disfigure our image of our Lord.

In addition, our parents play a significant role in shaping our image of Jesus. Their attitudes, prejudices, ways of handling stress, work-habits, intelligence, and temperament all contribute. Distant parents suggest a distant Jesus; angry parents evoke an angry Jesus; happy parents reflect a joyful Jesus, and so forth. Conscious of this, we need to honestly reflect on our experience with our parents and consider how this may have influenced our understanding of Jesus.

Sometimes our image of Jesus is simply a projection of ourselves. This might result in a Jesus who never challenges us and smiles upon everything we do. It might also result in a Jesus who too much reflects our anger and incapacity to forgive each other. This Jesus is quick to punish and slow to pardon, is easy to fear but hard to love. Once an adult daughter asked her mother to forgive some old hurts. Both of them are committed, practicing Catholics. Yet when the mother hesitated to forgive, the daughter asked, “Don’t you think if I told Jesus I was sorry, he’d forgive me?” But the mother said, “I don’t presume to say what Jesus would or would not do.” Sadly, her image of Jesus had been warped by her pain and resentment.

To grow in an authentic understanding of Jesus, we can do several things. First of all, we need to explore the Scriptures, especially the gospels, which paint for us complimentary and complex portraits of the Lord. “Ignorance of the Scriptures,” insisted St. Jerome, “is ignorance of Christ.” We also need to pray- honestly, openly, and frequently- and let the Spirit of Jesus deepen our relationship, and thus deepen our understanding. We need to be active in the Church, the body of Christ, where our brothers and sisters in Christ can help shape our image of Christ. We need to embrace the teachings of the Church, which come with authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And we need to try and understand our pain and suffering in light of the Jesus’ cross.

First and foremost, however, you and I need to love. To truly understand Jesus, the one who came not to be served but to serve, who gave up his life that ours might be saved, we need to be generous, sacrificial, and loving people as well. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But when it comes to Jesus, imitation is the key to understanding who he truly is. To love him is to know him, and to know him is to love him.

42 posted on 08/21/2011 6:13:38 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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Sunday Gospel Reflections

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I:
Isaiah 22:15,19-23 II: Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare'a Philip'pi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?"
14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli'jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Interesting Details
  • (v.13) Caesarea Philippi, where Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah, is a city built by prince Philip on the slope of Mount Hermon, north of Palestine. This place was known as a place of divine revelation in the Old Testament.
  • (v.16) The term "Messiah" reflects the disciples' hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God's kingdom on earth.
  • Verse 16 is parallel to Mk 8:27-28. However Matthew added a further specification of Jesus' identity as the Son of the living God.
  • The phrase the "Son of the living God" corrects any false implications present in the title Messiah. In the Jewish context, the word Messiah has for most people a very precise meaning: the coming Davidic king, the religious/political leader who would restore the power and glory of the nation of Israel. Jesus consistently refuses a political interpretation of his mission.
  • (v.18) In the New Testament, Jesus mentions Peter's name 195 times as compared to 130 times for all the rest of Apostles.

One Main Point

Peter makes his declaration of faith in Christ. Jesus appoints Peter as the leader of the Church as well as the gatekeeper of the kingdom of heaven.

  1. If Jesus comes and asks me who he is, how would I answer? If someone asks me who Jesus is, how do I explain?
  2. Jesus called Peter to be the leader of his Church. In what role does Jesus call me to be?
  3. Imagine myself being present at Caesarea Philippi among the apostles; how does Jesus react (gesture, facial expressions, tone) to Peter's answer? How do the apostles react when Peter is named the leader of the Church?
  4. Put myself in Peter's position; what will I do for the Church?

43 posted on 08/21/2011 6:22:14 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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