Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
February 20, 2014
James 2:1-9, Ps 34, Mt 8:27-23
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today and Saturday we will travel with Jesus to Caesarea Philippi, well north of the Sea of Galilee, to where Jesus asks his apostles two fundamental questions: Who do others say he is? And who does each of us say that he is? On Saturday, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we’ll have a chance to ponder the meaning of Simon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God and Jesus’ confession of Simon Peter as the “rock” on whom he would build his Church. Today, with the help of St. Mark’s version, I want to ponder instead what Jesus says to Simon Peter at the end of the scene and what it means for each of us.
- When Simon Peter confessed Jesus publicly not just to be another great prophet like John the Baptist or a string of Old Testament heroes but rather to be the long awaited Messiah — and as St. Matthew remembers also the Son of God — that brought with it a whole series of expectations. The Messiah was to be the one who would bring back the Kingdom of David, who would kick out all foreign powers, who would return Israel to prominence. Yet, as soon as Peter confessed Jesus to be this long awaited Anointed One, Jesus confessed the Messiah he would be. Rather than uniting the Jews and defeating and expelling the Romans, rather than leading them to triumph, he would instead suffer greatly, be rejected by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders and be killed. Jesus told them all of this “openly,” St. Mark tells us, so that they would know it clearly. It’s at that point that Simon Peter called Jesus aside and “rebuked him.” “God forbid anything like this should happen to you!,” he said, according to St. Matthew’s version. It was totally incompatible with the Messiah to suffer in this way, he insisted. But then Jesus said something to him very instructive. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
- Satan! Can you imagine Jesus calling you Satan not to mention a few minutes after he called you “rock”? Satan, we know, was opposed to God’s plan of salvation. He sought to place any and all obstacles in Jesus’ path. Jesus, in calling Peter Satan, was telling him in the clearest language possible that he was acting like the devil and trying to prevent the fulfillment of his mission as Messiah. He tells Peter not “Get away from me!” but “Get behind me!” Jesus wasn’t ridding himself of Peter, but he was pointing out what Peter had been trying to do, lead the Lord rather than follow the Lord. To tell him to get behind him was to make him a disciple rather than a roadblock. He also told him the reason why he was behaving like an obstacle: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Yesterday, we pondered the miracle of the progressive healing of the blind man so that he could see things distinctly as they really are. Today it’s Peter who needs to be cured of his blindness, because he was seeing only with human eyes rather than with the eyes of faith, the eyes that God seeks to give us. Peter at first saw what the crowds didn’t, that Jesus wasn’t just one of the prophets of old, but rather the Messiah. But he needs God’s continued help to see the type of Messiah he really is, rather than just he imagined he would be.
- We, too, run the risk of treating Jesus more as Satan than as humble follower. Since we now know the end of the story of Jesus’ betrayal, his glorious Resurrection, we won’t stop him directly from going to Calvary, but we will often still oppose his plans and try to stop ourselves and others from joining him on Calvary. Tomorrow we will hear Jesus say to us, in the continuance of this scene, that in order to be his disciple, we need to take up our own Cross and follow him, to lose our life to save it. And every time we deny the Cross, for ourselves and others, we are in a sense denying God’s salvific will, just as Satan wants us to do. Especially when we see a loved one suffering, we will often be tempted to help them do everything they can to reject that suffering rather than unite it with the Lord for however long he wants. If they’ve been abandoned by a spouse and are suffering to live alone, for example, many will tell them just to remarry rather than embrace the Cross. If we see them bearing a heavy Cross at the end of life, where to many in the world their life seems to have no meaning, sometimes we’ll be tempted to treat them like an animal and put them out of their misery in immoral ways. Rather than bearing our Cross and helping others to do so, we’ll reject ours and induce them to reject theirs. It’s crucially important for us, rather, to think as God thinks, rather than as everyone else in the world thinks, because without that vision, we may be in league with Satan.
- St. James in the first reading today shows us one way in which we’re all called to think as God thinks and see as God sees. Just as God doesn’t play favorites, but lets his sun shine and fruitful rain fall on all his sons and daughters, so neither we should play favorites, especially to those whom the world favors. St. James gives the example of something that plagued the early Church and still plagues the Church today, favoring in Church those whom the world favors. “If a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly,” he says, “and a poor person with shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” We don’t see everyone as someone infinitely loved by God, we don’t think as God thinks, but rather we see others according to worldly criteria. I’d like to ask you. If right now during this homily, Pope Francis were to walk into this chapel to attend daily Mass, would you pay attention to the homily any longer or would you just start paying attention to him? If he asked you to push into your pew to sit right next to you, would you complain? If Tom Brady were to come in with his wife Gisele, would you be upset or excited if they sat next to you, or right behind or in front of you? Would you wish them the Sign of Peace any differently than you do everyone else each morning? Now let’s flip it around. If a homeless person came in this morning with all of his belongings, would you want him sitting next to you? Would you push in almost inviting him to sit next to you or would you want him sitting far away? Would you wish him the Sign of Peace the way you would the Pope or far differently? I think most of us, if we were honest, would readily admit that we would play favorites, because we’re not really looking at things the way God does.
- I read an article a few weeks ago about a Protestant pastor who was about to take over a pretty wealthy suburban parish. With the permission of the elders but without the knowledge of anyone else, he came to Church the week before his assignment began dressed in disguise as a homeless person. He was treated the way homeless people are normally treated in “respectable” Churches, at a distance, with a little condescension, and not much love. The following Sunday, when he led their worship for the first time, in his Sermon he asked them if they were a loving, welcoming community. Most people in the Church readily assented. He then asked them if they were sure. Many reaffirmed. Then he began to take out his clothes from the previous week, as well as his wig, broken glasses and other parts of the disguise. Finally he showed them a picture of what he looked like and asked if any of those props rung a bell. The people immediately recognized the important lesson. When the minister came dressed in a suit as their new spiritual leader, everybody embraced him. But when the same man came as a homeless person, he was kept at more than arms’ length. I’m convinced that a similar reaction would happen in many Catholic Churches too. St. James is calling the attention of all of us to this reality.
- Who do you say that I am? Jesus essentially asks us that question in the disguise of everyone we meet. To say that we should not play favorites means that we should treat everyone as our favorite, everyone as we would want to treat Jesus, everyone as we ourselves would want to be treated. The way we learn how to think as God thinks and see as God sees happens here at Mass. The Word of God is like a mirror to help us to see what God sees so that we can align our hearts and minds to it. Then the Word of God made flesh comes to us on the inside to transform us. If we truly recognize him here in the Holy Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine then we should much more easily be able to recognize him in others, under a human disguise. Whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him. Let us ask him for the grace, unlike the elders, chief priests and scribes — all those who should have known better! — not to reject him in the person of others, but to embrace him with him. Let us ask him to give us his grace to acknowledge him here as the Messiah and Son of God and to go out behind him to save the world with love!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person with shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please,”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
But you dishonored the poor.
Are not the rich oppressing you?
And do they themselves not haul you off to court?
Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?
However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.
But if you show partiality, you commit sin,
and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”