Barekmore. Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One True God, Amen.
The gospel portion that we would be meditating upon is Luke 9: 18-25. The kernel of this passage is invariably the confession of Peter (which I have covered in an earlier blog) but there are other things that are worthy of reflection. The pericope begins by stating “When Jesus was praying alone.” (9:18). In the Gospel of Luke, we see the author underscoring the prayer life of Jesus. For instance; Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee by praying in synagogue (4:16); he prays before choosing the twelve apostles from his disciples (6:12-13) and then here in this passage soon after explaining the mystery of his Passion to the apostles he goes to the mountain to pray (9:28). It is also interesting to note that this incident occurs after Jesus miraculously feeds the five thousand. This accentuates the fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man. As St. Cyril writes;
“For the disciples saw Him praying in human fashion, whom yesterday they beheld working miracles with godlike dignity. It would not, therefore, have been entirely without reason, had they said among themselves; Oh strange conduct! Whom must we consider him to be God or man”?
Jesus then enquires the apostles about his identity. First as to what the people say about him and second as to what the apostles say about him. He could have avoided the first question and asked upfront what the apostles say about him. But he did not because he wanted the apostles to make the transition from an imperfect generic faith to the right faith which was then proclaimed by Peter i.e. the Christ of God. (9:20). Even this was a partial faith proclamation because there is a deeper mystery to the messianic status of Christ which will be revealed only at the cross. Thus Christ sternly ordered them not to tell anyone for they would be propagating a partial belief about him.
Following forth, Jesus mentions about his suffering, death and resurrection. Notice the three categories of people Jesus refers to who would reject him; the elders, chief priests and scribes. This represents the entire Jerusalem leadership. Thus Luke seizes the opportunity to emphasize that it was the Jews who rejected Jesus and got him killed. And hence we read in ‘On Pascha’ Melito accusing Israel for the crucifixion of Christ;
“O Israel what have you done? Is it not written for you: ‘You shall not spill innocent blood’ so that you might not die the death of the wicked? ‘I’ said Israel, ‘killed the Lord’ Why? ‘Because he had to die.’ You have erred, O Israel, to reason so about the slaughter of the Lord. He had to suffer, but not through you. He had to be dishonoured but not by you. He had to be judged but not by you. He had to be hung up, but not by you and by your right hand. This, O Israel, is the cry with which you should have called to God: ‘O Master, if your Son should suffer, and this is your will, let him suffer indeed, but not by me. Let him suffer through foreigners, let him be judged by the uncircumcised, let him be nailed in place by a tyrannical right hand, not mine.”
Finally Christ exhorts those who intend to follow him to deny themselves and take up the cross not once but daily. Right after our birth the Church reminds us our mortality through the Sacrament of Baptism and how to subvert death as our actual birth by voluntarily taking up the cross and laying down our lives for others as epitomized by Christ. As Michel Henry states; “To be born is not to come into the world but to come into life.” Christ is the Life (John 14:6) and we can live in Christ only if we bear our cross and die to ourselves. Thus we sing in the Kukilion of Friday Ramsho (Vespers); “For your sake we are slain everyday, we are counted as sheep for slaughter.”
Cross is not an exception but an exemplar. Christ through his Passion has not obliterated the cross rather he has just exemplified how to bear it. He even went to the extent of retaining his scars even after resurrection so that we may never forget the Passion. But we seem to have grown insulated to this reality. Many perceive the Church to be a vending machine of salvation demanding us no serious sacrifices but only the fulfilment of some religious duties. This is a parasitic spirituality. Thus Metropolitan Anthony Bloom writes;
“We treat the church as a place where we can take refuge; we run away from life into the church. We hide from life in the church. How often it happens that instead of coming out of the church in order to be sent “like sheep among the wolves”, we go out, ready to run away from all danger, to hide, to refuse to face any challenge. We do not live our lives on Christ’s own terms. We want God to live on ours. We almost say to him: “Die for me. I am afraid of dying both for myself or for my neighbour or even for you.” It is not the sinfulness, it is the fact that we close our eyes and do not want to see. It is a way in which we are satisfied living as parasites of God, not as people whom he can trust and send but for whom he is protection, haven, at times almost entertainment.”
Dearly beloved in Christ, may we renew our vocation to be martyrs for Christ. Let us live everyday like the one who is condemned to death so that we do not fall prey to the sinful enticements endorsed by the world, gaining them at the expense of losing our soul. May God bless us with courage and wisdom. Amen.
Dn. Basil Paul