“Just be with Him”
by Julian Drapiewski
“Who do you say I am?”
Yes: who do you say Jesus is? – this is the fundamental question of our faith.
Is he a lunatic? Or a liar, or maybe just a poor, good man, maybe a visionary who was not understood by people around him, who lived 2,000 years ago and was wrongly killed and… full-stop?
Or, maybe he is who he is said he is: The SON of GOD.
Because if he really is who he said he is, it changes everything.
If we listen to His words they give us hope and a totally new meaning and purpose.
If we believe Him, there is Heaven, and there is a space prepared for us.
If we believe in Him, we are invited to a relationship with a living person, with a living God, who bridges this impossible distance between humanity and the Almighty God.
If you believe towards Him, your life becomes a unique journey with a clearly defined destination, and the path to this destination is to become the best version of yourself, to become holy.
But this reality is not easy, in fact it is so difficult, that even the lads who were with Jesus – His closest friends, the disciples who were traveling and camping with Him for three years, couldn’t fully grasp it for a while after he was gone, after He fulfilled everything what was said about Him through the centuries by all the Jewish prophets.
In fact we can’t comprehend this on our own. We need help, hence we pray to Jesus to reveal himself to us. We can do that because HE IS.
Whenever you go to the church and see the Priest raising a piece of bread or a chalice of wine, whenever you see a monstrance, or even the lovely box called the tabernacle with a red light or a candle next to it, you can be sure that Jesus is physically present there.
He waits for you to start talking, or in fact He patiently waits for you to stop talking and thinking and just be with Him.
So today I invite you to do just that.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Isaiah 50:5-9
The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.
My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.
The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?
Today we meditate on the third servant song. The people are weary and angry with the prophet and his predictions of liberty from exile, but he continues to speak to them despite his suffering. God had opened his ear, so he listened and spoke and paid the price. He was beaten and abused. His beard was plucked. People spat in his face and rejected him. He was not afraid, setting his face like flint. His faith in God remained firm: See, the Lord GOD is my help;who will prove me wrong?Have you noticed how the word picture in the song speaks loudly of what happened to Jesus? He, too, was called to speak the living word. He, too, was abused, beaten and spat upon. He, too, lived out a painful conflict with a people who called for his death. He, too, trusted. The Song paints a picture of a Servant-Prophet who becomes the Suffering One, who instead of closeness to God experiences attack, rejection and enmity. How are we to read this song in these days when many people are disgusted and angry with the Church, weary of its behaviour? Does the Church, too, need to be perfected in suffering? Does the Church need to learn again what it means to be a true disciple of the Suffering Servant, the Man of Integrity? Does the Church need to take up its cross and take full responsibility for the consequences of its disastrous choices and actions? Yes, is the only answer!
LORD, Adonai, the prophet gave his back to those who beat him, spat on him, rejected and abused him. So did Jesus. So have many faithful people down the centuries. Teach me how to turn my face towards love and away from anger. Teach me how to turn towards trust not fear. Teach me to turn towards peace not violence. To compassion not hatred and condemnation. Help me understand the anger of so many people with the Church today. Help me understand the need for true justice. Be my help along the way. Help me deal with the consequences of my commitment to you. Grace us all with repentant spirits. Wrap us all in your compassion and care. Grace us all with your loving presence now and always. Amen.
Psalm 116 is often associated with the Eucharist, not least because of its association with the Passover rituals. In effect, the psalm becomes the voice of Jesus and the faith community giving thanks for the awesome promise of life and oneness that Jesus’ death and resurrection promises. The connection is particularly clear on Holy Thursday. The psalm faces us with the crux of genuine trust. You can hear it as the poet sings his very personal song of gratitude, grateful to God for saving him from a very close and present danger. So, he sings of his personal love for God and God’s infinite fidelity and goodness. Our God is gracious and just, a God who frees his people and saves their feet from stumbling, even when they walk into dead ends. And so, the poet sings, I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living! Do we love God? Do we trust God? Have we felt God’s hand touching our lives? Are we ready to say, Thank You, God!
LORD, Adonai, incline your ear to me when I call. Inspire me in new ways today and help me to inspire others. Rescue me from the cul-de-sacs, dead-ends and dark alleys of the human spirit and the places where my feet so easily stumble. You walk with the little ones and befriend the poor in spirit. Free me from patterns of spiritual and moral death. Grace me to walk before you in the land of the living. You are a gracious God and just, challenging and compassionate. Give me the courage to be true to you in public in these troubled days. Hear me when I call to you in times of lament and distress. Protect me from moral and spiritual danger. Above all, hear my cry of gratitude and praise now and always. Amen.
2nd Reading – James 2:14-18
Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.
This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds – now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.’
This is our third week reading the Letter of James and once again we are confronted by its wisdom teaching. Today, nothing less than spiritual and faith maturity is what is at stake. James issues a call for faith in action, something that is profoundly necessary in today’s world. Can we claim to have faith and not put it into practice? If faith and spirituality are not practiced they are not real. Today we are reminded that the honest Christian keeps on trying to live the gospel afresh. We have to keep on trying to make the gospel the solid basis of all our moral and spiritual action, remembering that prayer and liturgy cannot replace the integrity of a life lived in real love of God and neighbour. What good is it if we say we have faith but never live it? What is the point of wishing a neighbour well if we never stretch out a helping hand? What is the point of a Church apologising if nothing of real substance is changed?
Lord Jesus, let me be your disciple today. Help me face the many challenges of faith and spiritual maturity. Show me how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Help me to live my faith in you in practical and creative ways. May I reach out to those in need, listen to those in distress. May I bring healing with the oil and wine of true compassion to those who are wounded. Teach me what it is to walk in the world prophetically like Edith Stein or Dorothy Day. Teach me what it is to live the gospel courageously and afresh each day, serving the deprived and the little ones. Open my ears to the cry of the poor. Teach me the value of prayer dancing with the helping hand now and always. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 8:27-35
Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’
Caesarea Philippi was an area in Palestine dominated by Roman interests and presence. It was an area occupied by the colonial forces of the day. It was an area in the power of the oppressor. And it is in precisely such a place that Jesus always poses what we now call the discipleship question, and he does so in a very personal way: who do you say I am? Then he states the conditions of discipleship: putting aside the false self in favour of the true self, letting go of self-interest and all the things it brings into the world, accepting the consequences of being a disciple, and seeking to be obedient as Jesus was to God; and such obedience always has consequences, even today. Spiritually mature Christians know that even though sin is forgiven by a loving God the self remains. True disciples know this and take responsibility. Immature disciples make excuses. How do people react when they discover that you are a Christian? What does your way of living and acting say to them? Can you sit with the paradox?
Lord Jesus, help me to recognise my false self, the illusory vision I have constructed to defend myself from the pain and uncertainty of the world. Help me to embrace my true self, your image within me, and let it shine in the world. Help me sit with your transforming paradox: of saving by losing, of first and last, of ruling by serving, of receiving by giving, of becoming great by becoming small, of becoming strong by becoming weak. Teach me how to stay centred in love, centred in you, one with you. Help me recognise and take responsibility for my faults and my wounds, my hurtful reactions and myself-protective pretences. Help me to carry my cross: the consequences of my own choices. Remind me that truth is the way to freedom. Grant me the courage to be true to you, my destiny, to say who you are for me today and every day. Amen.
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus made use of the time to share intimately with his disciples, letting them see, a little at a time, the reason for the journey, and giving them some idea of the personal fate that awaited him. He wanted to be alone with them and so, before starting on the journey, he led them out of the territory of Galilee (Mk 8, 27). There they were alone with him. They had no choice but to share his table, alone with him. Jesus began the journey with an examination of his disciples. What others thought of him, was of secondary importance (Mk 8, 28). It was an excuse to make it easier for the disciples to speak their mind without fear. It was a deliberate tactical approach. And then with the question, “But who do you say I am?” they began the long journey with Jesus as their companion.
Peter’s confession was prompted by Jesus’ question. It was a profession of faith that was provoked, drawn out of him, by Jesus. If he had not been challenged, it is doubtful if he would have dared to declare his faith in Jesus. However, it is not enough to be a believer. Only someone who knows who Jesus is, will be able to understand what he is to become. A profession of faith, however orthodox it may be, is not enough. As well as acknowledging who Jesus is, the disciple must be willing to allow Jesus to become what he has to become. The sad part is that being a good believer (Mk 8, 30) does not shield one from the danger of becoming a devil. It all depends on whether or not he accepts God’s will (Mk 8, 33).
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This episode, a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, is presented in three parts. After a brief indication of the location where it takes place (Mk 8, 27a), Jesus opens a dialogue which concludes with Peter’s confession of faith, and the order to keep quiet about what has happened (Mk 8, 27b-30). Jesus’ two questions serve to focus the conversation on his own person. It is significant that, in their first reply, it is the group that acts as spokespersons for the views of the people, whereas in the second, Peter acts as spokesperson for the group of disciples. And even though Peter alone made the profession of faith, the whole group was bound to silence (Mk 8, 30).
Jesus responded to his disciples’ profession of faith by telling them, for the first time, the journey that the Son of Man would have to undertake, a genuine via crucis.Jesus seldom spoke in public with such clarity. This makes Peter’s reaction more understandable (Mk 8, 32b-33). Jesus does not tolerate any opposition to the destiny that awaits him. He rebukes Peter, publicly and severely, with the worst description Jesus has ever used anywhere in the Gospel. Opposition to the destiny of Jesus is opposition to the will of God.
At this first prediction of the forthcoming death of Jesus (Mk 8, 31-32a), Peter reacts by refusing to accept it (Mk 8,32b). And Jesus in turn denies the disciple who has changed from believer to tempter (Mk 8, 33). His disowning of the first one to profess faith in him is severe and public, in front of the other disciples. Opposing the destiny of Jesus, beloved of the Father, is no private matter. Jesus’ teaching on following him also has to be public (Mk 8, 34), and is given without any half measures. The cross is unavoidable, not only for Christ, but also for those who share his life. Whoever follows him from the beginning must follow him to the end. Without the passion, there is no Christ, and likewise no Christians.
Unexpectedly, a crowd appears and joins the disciples. We are not told where they came from (Mk 8, 27). The evangelist wants to make clear that Jesus has a larger group of listeners to hear his teaching about the cross (Mk 8,34a), and he introduces a wider audience to suit the need. Even though what Jesus says is focussed on the consequences of following him, his teaching is not restricted to the disciples. The people need to be aware of what it costs to follow him, although he expects his disciples to be more willing since they have been better prepared. He does not want people to follow him blindly (Mk 8,34b), and so he lets them know in advance where he will lead them (Mk 8, 32).
Nevertheless, when it is a question of the cross, the invitation to follow him is offered to all without distinction. Jesus proclaims publicly the conditions for being his disciple. Anyone can be a disciple, provided he meets the demands. The fact that he had gathered a crowd around him served as a warning to his most trusted followers. Sharing life with him is not enough, nor is it enough to walk with him, nor to preach in his name and with his authority, as had been the case until then. If those who had shared life with him and shared his suffering, were not willing to share with him to the end, they were not worthy to be his followers. A new condition is imposed, and following him is now a matter of choice. Taking up one’s cross and following him is not only for the disciples, but for all who declare themselves willing. Anyone who is not willing to pay the price, will not be his disciple, no matter how much he resolves to follow him.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Peter’s confession constituted a key moment in Jesus’ public life. It marked the beginning of a new stage in his ministry, characterized by his effort to educate his disciples. For some time, he had been proclaiming the kingdom throughout the villages of Galilee and healing the sick. It was natural then that the people who had met him and heard him should have formed a certain idea of him. Jesus wanted to know what the people were saying about him, but instead of asking them directly he put the question to the disciples. In this way he was pointing out their task – they ought to know what the people were thinking about their Master. Jesus led the disciples out of Galilee and away from the people, to test them. He had never been concerned about what people thought of him, yet now he put this question to his disciples. They report some of the opinions people had of him and reveal their own confusion. Only one of them was brave enough to proclaim his faith. The strange thing is, not that only one of them professed faith in who Jesus was, but that the one who did proclaim his faith would soon be rebuked for the way he thought about Jesus.
It was not mere curiosity that prompted Jesus to ask what was being said of him. He wanted his disciples to be aware of the opinions and the hopes that he was arousing among those who knew him, and in this way to gauge the results of his mission. He wanted his disciples to be interested not only in him whom they followed closely and accompanied all the time. He wanted them also to pay attention to what was going on around them, to be aware of the hopes and expectations that Jesus was arousing in the people. He wanted them to realize that they were not the only ones who placed their hopes in him; they were not the only ones who loved him and were interested in him. The more they realized what the people thought of Jesus or expected from him, the better they would understand him and the more enthusiastic they would be about him.
The fact that Jesus was their one Lord and Master should not lead them to forget that many others esteemed him just as much as they did, or maybe even more. Christ is not the sole property of Christians. His disciples are not the only people who are fascinated by him. When a true disciple realizes how many people love the Lord – and how much they love Him – it helps him to love the Lord more and to be ever more faithful. It is significant that before Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, he made them find out the opinion of others. A disciple who is not interested in what others are saying about Jesus, or a Christian who shows no interest in what other people think of Jesus, will not be able to give the reasons for his faith and will soon lose hope. We know who Jesus is, and we ought to be seriously concerned that he is not well known and that many do not know him at all. Our world today is forgetting Jesus because his disciples do not show enough interest in what is being said about him, and they themselves do not speak often enough about him. It seems that Christ has little or nothing to say nowadays because Christians think they know all about him and do not ask others what they think of him. If we think we know all about him, or if we are comfortable with the fact that he is often passed over in silence, we are adding to the general disinterest in the person of Jesus, and making it difficult for people to recognize him as Saviour.
It is our lifestyle more than our words that should invite those around us to enter into discussion. Nowadays it requires a certain amount of courage to present oneself before others as a disciple of Jesus, and to ask others what Christ means to them. Anyone who is on the side of Christ cannot remain neutral in the presence of others. Anyone who acknowledges him as Master will look for new disciples. Anyone who loves him will want him to be better known and loved by all. We would all be better disciples of Jesus if, like those first disciples, we were more concerned about the attitude of our contemporaries towards him, and the reasons for those attitudes. We would be encouraged when we discover that there are still many who share our faith and our hopes. And it would be a cause of sorrow to us to know that there are many who have little or no interest in him. How can we Christians live without being interested in what people say of Christ?
It is not enough for us to know who Jesus really is. Peter knew and, with admirable courage, declared it publicly. But his confession did not spare him a scolding from Jesus! It was not because he was misinformed. He was right in acknowledging him as the Christ, the Son of God. Nevertheless, to his surprise, and as a warning to us, he was severely criticized by Jesus. As a good believer, Peter thought he knew who Jesus was and who he was meant to be. He thought he had a good idea of the Lord, better than the others had, and he thought he knew how Christ should act. Like Peter, Christians who think they know God well are deceiving themselves when they think they know what to expect from him. Good believers are the very people who tend to misunderstand God. They acknowledge him as God and think he should be God in the way they imagine him. Atheists and agnostics do not dare to create an image of God according to their expectations. Those who have no interest in God may be deluding themselves. The temptation that faces believers, who think they know God well, is to think they know what to expect from God.
This is what Peter thought, the first disciple to declare his faith. He could not imagine, and he did not want to accept, that Jesus should die, sentenced on a cross. That sort of end did not match the hopes that Peter had in him. He believed that he should not allow the Lord to follow God’s plan. There is something likeable about this good disciple who sought to dissuade his Master, and drew him aside to be better able to convince him. We consider his opposition to the death of Jesus as something good, and we identify with his effort to dissuade him. Any one of us would certainly have done the same, and we continue to do so every day. True enough, we believe in God. We follow Christ, certainly. However, our faith, like that of Peter, and our willingness to follow him, are subject to the condition that the demands he makes of should not be too strange, that they be reasonable. A God who makes unreasonable demands and a Christ very different from the one we know, could easily make us change our minds. It would be sad, but not impossible if, even after following Jesus for many years and believing in God all our lives, we were to discover that we do not really know Christ and we do not accept God’s plans.
We should be more conscious of the risk we run when we seek to change God’s plan to suit the God we believe in. Peter, the first disciple to recognize the Lord, was condemned by the Lord as his worst enemy, a devil. Jesus never referred to any of his enemies as Satan, not even the worst of them, nor those who condemned him to death. The only one deserving of such condemnation was the disciple who knew him best and loved him most. It is not enough then to believe in God, no matter how genuine our faith may be, nor is it sufficient to declare it publicly every now and then. As believers, we have to learn to respect God, to accept him as he is, and as he wants to be for us. The disciples of Jesus must give up imagining the Lord according to their own wishes and their own way of reasoning. The faith that Jesus expects from his disciples is more than just a public statement of who he is for us. It is not simply a matter of saying what he means for us. The faith that Jesus expects of his disciples is seen when we allow him to be for us whatever he wants to be, and in whatever way he wants.
If, like Peter on the road to Jerusalem, we do not understand that the destiny of Jesus is death on the cross, then we need to realize that God is not uppermost in our desires. We will really know God only when we allow Him to be what He wants to be for us, even if we never come to understand Him. Only when we allow Him to be Lord of our lives, will we be capable of an intimate personal relationship with Him. If we allow God to be our God, totally, and make Jesus Christ our only Lord, we will soon come to meet Him on the cross. We cannot be His disciples unless we follow Him closely. If we refuse to take up our cross, we are denying Jesus.
Peter realized that day, that he was following someone who was walking consciously to His death, and he sought to rebel. Jesus warned him that anyone who opposed God’s plan was not worthy of Him. Avoiding the cross might save someone’s life for the time being, but it makes him unworthy of Christ. God alone is deserving of our lives, and only Jesus is worth suffering for. Every Christian will one day have to answer the same question that the Lord put to the disciples. Instead of congratulating ourselves that we already know the right answer, we should ask ourselves if we are willing to accept the consequences – to deny ourselves and take up our cross. This is what is asked of those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. The example of Peter is a serious warning to us. The first believer became, immediately, a devil … because he was not ready to accept the consequences of his faith. It is not enough to know who Jesus is – we must be ready to accept what it means for him. We also need to remember that the destiny that awaits Jesus will also be the destiny of his disciples.