In today’s Gospel Story there is a difference between how Jesus’ disciples and the others answered his question “Who do People/you say I am?”. The people use standard titles which their system gave them, while Jesus’ disciples spoke from their own experience with him.
Jesus did not come to give folks a new system of laws and beliefs. He offered a relationship and a journey of growth. When we take seriously his invitation to “come, follow me”, we can expect to be on our own journey. As we spend time with him in prayer and, open to the Spirit, pray the Gospels, we can expect the unexpected. As nice as a system’s terminology and doctrine might be, they are no substitute for the relationship Jesus offers us. They point to it, but many of us pay so much attention to the doctrines that we don’t get to where they point. When we think of following Jesus as believing the right ideas about him, we can keep him remote and apart from our everyday life. Nice ideas, but little operational impact. When we are with him in prayer, we sense he is very much involved in our daily life. Real impact. The doctrines take on a richer meaning with new depth, and implications for how we actually live.
As we spend time with Jesus we come to see how he treated folks himself, and how he did not like others to treat folks allegedly in his Father’s name. The system of his day had an elite class that laid heavy burdens on folks who made the mistake of not living as the elite wanted them to. He reached out to these folks in the love he shared with his Father, accepted and did not condemn them. He did not demand thy change their lifestyle to fit his expectations, because he had no expectations other than inviting them to know his Father loving them. He did not demand that the roman government pass laws imposing his ways on the people. He reached out to folks wherever he met them and simply offered his love, which they were free to accept or reject. It was their choice, and he would not force them. He did not cut them off from himself, or tell them to stay away until they got their act together. No threats or punishments. Just kind and loving time with them.
When we are on a prayer journey with Jesus, we might come to sense that he would be annoyed at religious systems of today as he was with those of his day. In his name some systems throw out folks whose lifestyle does not meet a given system’s standards. What about other systemic wrongs? So much is done by some systems claiming to act in the name of God, or claiming that any who disagree with a given system are in peril or “losing their soul”. Really, though, it has nothing to do with one’s soul and everything to do with preserving someone’s power. In the name of Jesus people are discriminated against simply because they were born the wrong sex, or have personal drives not deemed compatible with a given system’s values. In some systems persons whose marriages have failed are denied full access to its prayer life. In some systems using the prescribed words and preserving traditional “unchangeable” ideas is more important than providing their members access to the worship that the systems claim to be the very basis of their existence. Believing the right doctrines described in the right words seems more important than abuse and mistreatment of people — which seems to be justified if they are not saying all the right things in the right way. In spite of God’s gift of our intellect, some institutions do not allow discussion on any of their pet doctrines which they used to shore up their power and position.
Jesus claimed no power for himself, but some systems who claim to act in his name are all about power centered in a small elite which imposes its will on folks just because it can. Jesus did not wear fancy clothes or live in a fancy palace. In fact, he rebuked those who did. In a point of wry humor, the license plates for Vatican City all have SCV (Stato della Città del Vaticano, Vatican City State). Some folks say it really means “Si Christus Videsse”, or “If Christ were to see this”, he would be pretty annoyed. Is this what he had in mind? Some of those limos are pretty fancy.
What does someone trying to be a disciple of Jesus do with this? If on their journey folks feel called to do something, another part of the Story comes into play: “If someone want to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”. No doubt some among us are doing just that. If they are writers, they are investigated and silenced. If they are teachers in an institution’s school they are called a heretic and removed. If they are women religious doing their best to live the Gospel as they are coming to know it, they are publicly castigated and investigated. If they are ordinary folks expressing their opinion, they are ignored by some folks they used to be on good terms with. If someone supports women’s ordination, optional celibacy, or same sex marriage, they can be in a lot of trouble, and recent events demonstrate. If they are clergy, they are threatened with all kind of nice things. If someone expresses opinions, old friends might stop talking with them. These can be unpleasant experiences, and the cross becomes very real. Yet, folks have to do what they have to do, simply because they believe it is right. Soldiers know this. Every person has to follow the Gospel as they hear it. Each of us has to be faithful to prayer, and go where it takes us. As Jesus confronted wrong wherever he saw it in his day, so must his disciples in theirs. If there is wrong in the civil government, Jesus’ followers must confront it. If there is wrong in religious systems, Jesus’ followers must confront it, especially since it is being done allegedly in his name. If folks are being abused or mistreated, this must be addressed. If there are abuses of power, they must be addressed.
Jesus knew what he was talking about, and hat the cost would be for his disciples.
The big question is what is he calling his followers to do.
Just sayin . . .