Reflection for Sunday – September 12, 2021

Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9A; James 2: 14-18; Mark 8: 27-35
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino

We live in a broken world. A bruised world, where some deliberately prey on the weaknesses of others. (Consider all those daily “robo” calls.) At the same time, it’s a beautiful world, where goodness and heroism can emerge, and even triumph. Thus it has always been.

So, then, imagine, for a moment, being back then, on the road with Jesus and his first disciples. We’re now in Caesarea Philippi. That mountainous place, with its lavish source of water for the Jordan River. Jesus fixes his gaze on us, each of us. His disciples. We know his goodness, his healings, his feeding of some 4,000 people. His self-assurance in the face of provoking disbelief by the Pharisees. His passionate certainty that he is all about serving his beloved God. We can literally feel his eyes probing the depths of our souls. Simply longing for an answer to a very important question: Who do you say that I am?

As always, Peter rushes to the fore: “You are the Christ.” The Anointed One. The Promised One. Yes! But, what does that mean? Ah, that’s the real question. Jesus scandalizes Peter. And us, perhaps, as well, if we’re totally honest. It means suffering. Rejection. Death. Before finally, rising from the dead. Is that what Peter wanted to hear? Is that what we want to hear?

Then we remember. Now, this very weekend, the 20th anniversary of the devastating 9/11 attacks on our nation. We remember the horror, the cruelty, the desire only to kill, to maim, to destroy life at every turn. But we also remember someone who said No to all that pain and suffering. Father Mychal Fallon Judge. A Franciscan friar, chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. On that fateful morning, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center had just collapsed, he simply rushed into the chaos. To heal. To comfort. To gather up those who had died. By 10:28, after both the North and South Towers had collapsed, his body was carried out and placed before the altar of St. Peter’s Church. Heroic? Yes. Beyond imagining?

Maybe. But, here’s the point. This son of Irish immigrants, this long-time member of Dignity support group for LGBTQ folks, this recovering alcoholic, had already lived out his faith, day in and day out. This man, day in and day out, had continually ministered to people who were homeless and hungry, to gays and lesbians, to anyone and everyone on the margins of life. He did what he always did: respond to human needs, one person at a time.

Still, is his example too much for us? Maybe not. I remember my grandma. Since grandpa was ill, she worked on the farm, raising chickens, fruit and vegetables. And, baking the best oatmeal bread ever! I remember the teachers who took me under their wing when I first began teaching history on the high school level. I remember my theology professors who blended their love of Scripture and doctrine with love of their students. I particularly remember one Scripture professor who would respond to anyone’s question by saying, “Just look here” thumbing through the Bible, “you’ll see what I mean.” I remember all those who passionately worked to free slaves, to give people of color and women the vote, to countless women today who say Yes to serving God through ordination, despite the continued No of the official church.

Who do you say that I am? Well before the time of Jesus, people of faith had suffered, discovered, and lived out their faith. Like the Psalmist in today’s readings. Who is he? We have no idea. We simply know what he tells us. He has suffered, greatly. “The cords of death encompassed me.” But after crying out to God, he could also proclaim: God “has freed my soul from death… my feet from stumbling.” Then there’s the powerfully poetic Second Isaiah, writing from exile in Babylon some 500 years before Jesus. Longing, yearning, only to return home, to Israel, to the place of his birth. Today he names for us what it is to be a “suffering servant” of God. Who is God for him? “My help.” The One who “opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.”

Now it’s our turn. In our broken world. Jesus peers intently into our eyes, searching the depths of our hearts. We stop. Take in all that we see on his face. Allow his being to penetrate ours. And finally, we wholeheartedly respond to his question: “Who do you say that I am?”

Gloria Ulterino
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