Matthew 16: 13-20
September 19, 2021
Today´s Gospel offers us the essential challenge of Jesus’ message, the challenge so very difficult to hear, assume and follow. The apostles have just found themselves lacking in the “power” to expel the “evil spirit, the evil power” from a tormented child. Some demons are expelled ONLY through prayer…prayer that radically changes our lives.
Jesus leaves the area with the disciples walking through Galilee avoiding the crowds and communities. He wanted to be alone with his disciples. On the journey he announced abruptly his murder at the hands of men and his resurrection after three days. His disciples remained silent, not understanding his meaning and afraid to ask for clarification. The journey continues the disciples in constant and intense conversation. When they arrive in Capernaum and are in the protection of the house, Jesus asks what the disciples were arguing about on the road. Again silence reigned as they were arguing about which of them was the most important, the greatest, the most powerful.
Jesus´ response is interesting and informative. His response is principally his way of being, his way of relating. He sits down probably on a cushion on the floor as was the custom of the time and calls the twelve disciples to sit with him. All are on the same level, including Jesus. And he says: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all.” Any practice or act that has as its objective to be superior to others, dominate others, all motivated by ambition for power is wrong, far from the will and project of his Father. Unfortunately we call this the “Kingdom of God”, a phrase which expresses the opposite of Jesus’ message and practice. What Jesus portrays and lives is the living and active presence of God here among his people. This presence grows and spreads not through power and riches but through disinterested service, service without expectations and returns, service offered and shared because it is needed.
This was clearly not the expectation and future the disciples were talking about on the journey. Their vision was still to become known, famous, powerful, while Jesus offered a vision and practice totally contrary to these expectations. His vision is service for those who are marginalized, oppressed, dominated, without voice, vote or freedom to live differently and make a difference. Today´s society, as was the society in Jesus´ times, operates on the basis of power, ambition, money and domination. This society not only excludes the needs of those marginalized and murdered alive by the system; it exists at the cost of those marginalized and oppressed. The richer and more powerful the rich and system become, the poorer and more marginalized become its victims.
Jesus’ life and living message is to change this system, this way of being together. The child he places among them, the child he takes into his arms represents the victims of the system, those without the strength and force to change the forces that take life from them. Jesus proposes the change without the use of force, money or power. He sits among them as one of them. He takes them in his arms, in his care, in his vision. He believes in their capacity to become free of the domination and oppression, but they cannot do it alone. He proposes community of equals, friends, companions, servants who become one with the marginalized, poor, oppressed and dominated.
Jesus does not teach us only to be charitable, to help those in need, to offer alms, to offer assistance, to share a bit of our bounty. His life shows us how to make this charity almost unnecessary, how to change the picture because we change our way of being. His life portrays the journey we must take to change the system that creates the poor and the rich, the weak and the powerful, the oppressed and the oppressor. He shows with his life that we must move to the other side, be one with the oppressed, walk with them as they learn to stand together, walk together, discover different ways of being and living…ways that liberate, empower, open up a different world of shared abundance. We must share our knowledge, but understand too that there is a new and different knowledge to be learned and practiced. How do we identify with the marginalized as Jesus does? How do we sit together, eye to eye, listening, sharing, hearing so as to understand and know what happens in the lives of those not like us, those in need, those dominated, those struggling just to survive. In today´s Gospel, Jesus sat among his disciples as equal. He listened, but didn’t chastise. Nor did he judge. He questioned by offering new understandings and insights. He also removed himself as principal reference in the journey: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
And the consequences of this different journey, beginning without answers among those who are oppressed by the answers of the ambitious and powerful? “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him and after three days he will rise.” Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian Archbishop of Olinda- Recife, Pernambuco, called the bishop of the slums, died in a small room off the sacristy of Our Lady of the Frontiers Church in Recife. His door was always open, day and night, to those who sought him, no need for bureaucratic organization and permission for visits. He explains the persecution and violence that arises from a radical understanding and living of the gospel when he says…
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist…”
Matthew 16: 13-20
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Meet Sister Jane Dwyer, SNDdeN