Who Is Like God?

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

—Luke 9:18–22

Jesus’s two questions to his disciples—“Who do the crowds say that I am? …But who do you say that I am?”—highlight the fact that He wants us to come to know Him personally, not merely through what we hear from others. He knows that a flurry of rumors and opinions surround Him, but He doesn’t want His disciples to be distracted by them. Rather, He wants them to form their knowledge from their own direct encounters with Him.

Peter’s response—“The Christ of God”—cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Is Jesus a prophet or the Messiah? A conduit of God’s message, or the Source? Peter answers firmly that Jesus is not merely a human leader but is the Divine Redeemer.

However, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah has some troubling implications. If He is the Redeemer, then He is also the Lamb, destined to be sacrificed for our salvation. The disciples do not realize this; they do not yet know the necessity of the Cross, but Jesus immediately and directly speaks to them of the great suffering He must endure.

The truth of Jesus’s divinity was much harder to process than the other narratives floating among the crowds. To be a follower of a prophet required much less than to be the follower of the Lamb. Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him in the way of sacrifice, to take up their own crosses. It would have been much easier for them to accept an alternate explanation for Jesus’s teachings and rationalize that He didn’t really mean that He would suffer. But it wouldn’t have been the truth.

We are living in turbulent times, where the truth is twisted in a thousand different directions every day. As we try to come to know Jesus, it can be very easy to become distracted by the noise that surrounds us, the many alternative explanations and lies that try to steal our attention and confuse us. But Jesus Himself is the Truth—and the Way, and the Life—and if we focus ourselves on Him, we will find the truth illuminated for us everywhere.

We are called to earnestly seek truth in every situation, not to accept incomplete accounts or one-sided descriptions that may be easier to digest but ultimately keep us in the darkness. The truth is difficult and often uncomfortable, but only the truth will set us free.

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, who were the forerunners for us in this decision between truth and comfort. For the angels, the revelation that they would be called to serve fallen humanity and bow before Mary as their Queen was difficult to receive. In response, Satan rebelled against God and refused to serve. Michael could have made that choice, too, but he didn’t. Instead he responded, “Mîkhā’ēl,” or “Who is like God?” He knew that even though the path ahead would involve suffering, he could trust God to lead him through it. And honestly, who was Satan kidding? Did he really think he could defeat God? He can whine and scheme and throw tantrums; he can wreak havoc throughout the world; but in the end, he cannot win. He is not like God. Unlike Michael, he refused to acknowledge this truth.

Michael’s words, “Who is like God?”, are very similar to Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else would we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” They are kindred spirits in their clear-eyed understanding of their own dependence upon God. They know that God’s teachings are difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is trustworthy. They look to God Himself and find Truth within the Mystery.

In response to the current abuse crisis in the Church, many parishes (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral!) have brought back the tradition of saying the St. Michael Prayer together at the end of each Mass. As we look toward his feast tomorrow, let us keep this prayer on our lips as a guard against the lies of Satan and a declaration of trust in God. May truth prevail, in our own hearts and in the whole world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Stoned

“But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice…  My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10:2-4; 27-29

“Does anyone know what it is like to be stoned?”  The teacher realized in retrospect that was probably not the best way to phrase the question to a group of eight-grade students, who promptly burst out laughing.  Needless to say, it was not the martyrdom of St. Stephen they were picturing in that moment.

I smile now whenever I hear the story of St. Stephen’s stoning, remembering this anecdote and also how, as a small child, I heard about this martyrdom of Stephen (and others) and decided that I too, wanted to be a martyr.  Not because I was particularly holy, nor because I had any real tolerance for pain (ha!), but because like every child I wanted to imagine myself as a hero.  Every child dreams of being the courageous one, the strong one, the one that stands up to evil and saves the world.  “I want to be the coward that runs and hides, or that stands there doing nothing” said no child, ever.

But often time reveals in us more weakness than courage.  Not only do we fail to stand up for those under attack, we pick up stones ourselves.

For most of us, the stonings that we experience—as victims, bystanders, or participants, are verbal rather than physical.  If I am honest, I still fear these more than the physical.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  This childhood rhyme so often shouted across the playground is patently untrue.  As I have participated in healing ministry over the last few years—for myself and for others—I have seen lifelong hurt and damage from name calling and other forms of rejection, that last longer than any bruises or physical trauma.

The antidote, to both wounds and cowardice, is to hear our name being called by Jesus.

When I know who I am, more properly Whose I am, I am less vulnerable to the lies of those who would attack me.  The truths that Jesus speaks into my heart, about who I am, who He made me to be, can undo and heal the lies that I have believed over the years.  And when I know who is calling me, and where I am going, with His grace I can have the courage to follow, even if like Stephen it leads to death.

In a world in which our identity in Christ is questioned or even lost, we seek all sorts of counterfeit measurements to validate and give us worth.  How arrogant and absurd to claim superiority in the amount of melanin in our skin, the amount of education or experience on our resume, the amount of income on our tax returns.  Let us pray for the peace that comes through knowing that we are all called by the same Good Shepherd.

Jesus Defines the Relationship

From today’s Gospel:

“…Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, 

Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

My dear fellow pilgrims,

I have been sitting in my reflection-writing chair for about twenty minutes now pondering this Gospel passage, and I have finally thought of something pretty …human that parallels what happens here between Jesus and the Jews.

Jesus just had a DTR with the Jewish people.

Have you ever heard of the acronym DTR? I think I first heard it from Monica Herber (a beloved Frassati member) when she was asking me about my relationship timeline with Aidan. It means “define the relationship,” and is a very helpful way to describe what is usually a complicated conversation between two people who have been seeing each other pretty regularly but are in need of some clarity as to what they really “are.”  It usually comes after a string of going out on what seems to be dates with the person but you don’t know if it’s really a date or if you’re just looking for an excuse to use an Applebee’s gift card your aunt gave you. (True story, by the way. And I was also looking for someone to drive me to Trader Joe’s.)

But in all seriousness, even though it may come off as a juvenile way to describe what happens here, I think it is worth exploring. (And yes, maybe it’s worth exploring, in part, because I don’t have any better ideas right now. )

If you’ve ever had a DTR, or several, you know all of the emotions going into it are putting more weight on the result of this conversation.  All of what you have experienced with this person has been telling them something about who you want to be for that person, but you have not yet given this relationship a name. You have not yet put parameters on the exact role you want to play in their lives. Chances are, though, if you want to have a DTR, you are the one who wants the other person to stick around, you want to commit to them and you want to know if they will commit. Well, here, Jesus knows that this is the exact time He needs to reveal His identity to His people, the Jews, and because He is God, He knows exactly how it’s going to go. He will be rejected by many. But, He also need to speak the truth of Who He Is so that people can truly accept Him.

Because one of the salient emotions of a DTR is risk. You’re risking losing the relationship you had with this person in order to gain a truer relationship, to build a mutual relationship that you both want. Jesus has been performing miracles, gathering a following of people, intriguing everyone with knowledge and empathy and all these things people have never experienced before and really like and oh my gosh it’s all so crazy, right? But He is no mere prophet, He isn’t an entertainer or just a magician, He is Who Is, He is I AM.  Jesus called Himself I AM, a Jewish phrase for God’s name. It was bad enough that Jesus said it publicly, but He was seen as committing blasphemy because he claimed to be the I AM. Jesus was defining the relationship by defining Himself, because only by acknowledging the absolute divine nature of Christ can we understand our relationship to Him and to anyone else, for that matter. Only by further understanding His Identity can we understand our own. (Side note: And how counter-cultural is that?? Our own personal truth is not the greatest truth. Of course personal truths are necessary to acknowledge and care for, but they cannot be cared for without acknowledging the supreme truth of Christ’s Identity.)

Jesus knew this moment was the beginning of the end. He knew once He told them who He was, their relationship would never be the same. Humanity would never be the same. It wasn’t enough to show them the Way, He needed to tell them He Is the Way, the Word, the Life. He spoke using the language His Father gave them, because He Is the Word. But they threw stones at Him and were scandalized because they were afraid, they were seeking to entrap Him.

But just think about the heaviness of Jesus’ heart immediately preceding that moment… everything was about to change. It is such a human thought process: “I don’t want them to know who I really am because then they will reject me. I don’t want them to know the relationship I want with them because they will think I’m too weird or out there.”  I’m sure Jesus felt this dread in a sinless way because He longed for them to listen and yet knew they would reject Him. He was saddened by the rejection, I’m sure.

This passage helps us prepare for His Passion by helping us see the humanity in the onset of His rejection and the legal case against Him. Try thinking about a time when you took a risk to explain who you really are to a person, or maybe think back to a time when the DTR didn’t go so well. Try to empathize with Jesus.

May we be the ones in the crowd who meet His profession of love for us and longing to be the Messiah with listening hearts. May the fact of His divinity and Incarnation be the basis of relationship for us and for understanding ourselves.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Chosen

Bilińska_Joseph_sold_by_his_brothersToday’s first reading recounts the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Jealous of the attention he was getting from their father and annoyed by his prideful behavior, they acted out of anger and got rid of him. However, it becomes clear in Scripture that Joseph was not only his father’s chosen favorite; he was also the chosen one of God, to fulfill a mission in Egypt.

When Joseph’s brothers came face to face with him again many years later, and when they realized that Joseph was the one who had the power to save their lives from famine, surely they feared that he would remember their crimes against him and be unwilling to help. But Joseph was moved to tears to see them once again, and he forgave them immediately for all they had done:

“Come closer to me,” Joseph told his brothers. When they had done so, he said: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
But now do not be distressed, and do not be angry with yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.
The famine has been in the land for two years now, and for five more years cultivation will yield no harvest.
God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.
So it was not really you but God who had me come here; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.

—Genesis 45:4–8

Joseph was indeed chosen, but his chosenness did not have the significance he first imagined as his father’s favorite child. He was chosen not because of his own merit, but simply because he was in a position to serve others. Over the course of his journey in Egypt, he became aware of his own faults and gained a sense of humility. The people that God calls are not always the best or holiest individuals, but they are given an opportunity to do something for God. God had a plan for Joseph and used him in spite of his flaws. Joseph’s pride faded when he realized that he was undeserving of the honors he coveted. By the end of the story, his brothers’ jealousy faded as well—in particular Judah’s—for we can see that they no longer hate the fact that Joseph is ruler over them but willingly bow down to him. Joseph and his brothers all reach a peaceful resolution by acknowledging their own weakness and unworthiness of power. Joseph, however, is a successful ruler because he realizes not only that he is unworthy of power but also that he has been chosen regardless, and he can fulfill this task with God’s help. It is humility that allows him to accept his role as ruler despite his weakness, for he is acting in obedience to God and simply accepting what he is given instead of seeking power out of sheer avarice.

Each of us is given a unique role to fill, and in many situations we are asked to play a supporting role. It is up to us to embrace the role we are given and fulfill it to the best of our ability, rather than being jealous of those who have roles of greater importance or shirk the responsibilities of our calling. It would be foolish to think that we are better than anyone else, even if it appears that we are in a more influential position; some are called to quieter, hidden lives and live them meaningfully.

Joseph was chosen to rule over his brothers and save the lives of many, but that doesn’t mean he was a better person than his brothers were. The Jewish people were indeed God’s chosen people, but that does not mean they were better than the Gentiles. Joseph was chosen to be the conduit for God to carry out His plan, and the Jewish people were the conduit through which God Himself entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ.

It is no surprise that Joseph and Judah emerged as the strongest clans in Israel, when one considers the fact that these two brothers were the ones who most fully accepted and embraced the roles given them by God. They became the men that God created them to be instead of fighting against their lot in life or demanding more. In everything, they acted with humility.


Image: Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, Joseph sold by his brothers / PD-US