Playing it safe is not Christian discipleship

  • June 13, 2013

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 23 (Zechariah 12:10-11; Psalm 63; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24)

Zechariah’s cryptic prophecy presents us with a question: Who was the one who was pierced and why? These and other questions remain unanswered from the historical point of view.

Zechariah was a prophet whose ministry was around 520 BC, a few years after the return from exile in Babylon. Chapters 9-12 of this work, however, are most likely a later addition and reflect a strong apocalyptic tendency. The figure appears to be someone killed by those in power, perhaps one of the prophets, and it bears a resemblance to the Suffering Servant figure in the Book of Isaiah.

The authors of the Gospels eagerly applied this passage to Jesus. Examining the dynamics evident in the passage, an old story emerges — the human tendency to attack and kill the messenger. People do not like to be challenged or to have their tidy and predictable personal world shaken. This discomfort is especially acute when there is a perceived threat to power, rank or material possessions.

The nameless pierced prophet represents the men and women throughout the ages who have spoken to power or challenged the perceptions people had of themselves. We are no different today.

Remorse, contrition and conversion of heart are gifts of God but they usually occur after the dismaying deeds are done. The prophet assured the people that the day would come in which they would see their actions in the true light and have a change of heart. True mourning — the pain of self-knowledge — would then lead them to true repentance and compassion.

In our own day, there has been much soul-searching as governments, institutions, societies and religious bodies have accepted responsibility for destructive attitudes and actions of the past. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, calloused indifference to the poor and marginalized, culture arrogance and the sexual abuse of children do not look or feel good in the full light of God’s Word. Repentance, the acceptance of responsibility and a change of heart and attitude are not signs of weakness or political correctness but a fitting response to the Spirit, grace and compassion of God.

Paul brought a fresh spiritual outlook with his proclamation and challenged religious and cultural attitudes throughout his ministry. In his message to the Galatian community, he emphasized that Jesus inaugurated a new spiritual order that was open to all the peoples of the Earth. The labels and distinctions that humans placed on one another meant absolutely nothing to God — all were equal in Christ.

This was not an easy message to accept fully and it has been a long and tortuous process involving much disagreement and conflict.

Two-thousand years later Christians still have a long way to go in understanding and applying the unity and equality taught by Jesus.

With his probing and carefully phrased question, Jesus sought to bring a new spiritual awareness to his followers. The question sounded simple: what is the word on the street about me? Who are they saying I am? The answers volunteered by most of the disciples were predictable and represented the conventional wisdom — a prophet, Elijah, and John the Baptist.

An uncharacteristically silent Peter allowed his mind to be stretched, and the blurted-out response — the anointed one of God — was certainly correct. Luke skipped both Jesus’ fulsome praise of Peter in Matthew and the stinging rebuke in Mark. Luke’s emphasis was on the suffering and death of Jesus in the city of destiny — Jerusalem.

Jesus insisted that even though he would suffer death at the hands of the authorities he would not be alone. Anyone worthy to be called His disciple had to expect the same and be willing to follow in His footsteps.

Humans tend to be self-protective, avoiding pain, loss and danger. If we allow ourselves to be ruled by those feelings, our spiritual journey will be slow and difficult indeed.

Playing it safe is not Christian discipleship. Jesus challenges us to move beyond that cocoon of fear and walk in the light and the Spirit of God.

Most of us will not be called on to give up our physical life but there are many ways of losing one’s life. When we let go of comfort, convenience, the opinions of others and personal resources for the sake of others and God’s Kingdom we have taken up the Cross of Jesus.