Today’s word has something of a tang of Wittgenstein, for it is talk about talk. We move from James’ animadversions upon the tongue to Peter’s complete failure to hear Jesus and we end with Jesus’ talking about the importance of not only hearing the words that he is saying but remembering them.
James goes way beyond the old adage told to umpteen chatterbox children “You have two ears, two eyes but only one tongue”. No matter how often we are told this, we forget, being so busy saying what we want to say. There is indelibility around the spoken and, indeed, read word; that is why the WPB or the delete key is so important: once the word is uttered or read the damage is done, any amount of saying sorry won’t delete it, not even sacramental absolution, certainly not without suitable and painful remedial action and consequent honesty. That is one of the reasons for James’s strictures; that old adage about sticks and stone breaking bones but words can never hurt is just untrue; they can be and often are misinterpreted, misheard and very good spreaders of poison. Or they are just not believed.
So we come to Caesarea Philippi and a conversation initiated by Jesus, “Who do folk say that I am?”. Run of the mill answers from some of them, so he turns to Peter and receives the astounding reply, “You are the Messiah”. Jesus replies, “then don’t tell anybody” and he goes on to take himself off any possible pinnacle by foretelling what is really going to happen to him which is too much for Peter, a shouted “No!” which provokes Jesus to liken his most faithful and outspoken disciple to Satan. The possibility revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Messiah overwhelms him so he forgets or ignores or misses out conveniently a lot of Isaiah on the way, so Peter would be in the way, the brave, intrepid Peter. “You think as men think not as God thinks”.
years ago the parish priest of Bow church in London made quite a name for
himself by organising dialogues in this church, conveniently fitted with two
identical ambones, between very different people, so he thought of Bishop
Trevor and Enoch Powell. It really was a
damp squib, no fireworks at all from two exceedingly articulate men; they were
just talking past each other, just as Jesus was talking past Peter whose whole
idea of the victorious Messiah inhibited any idea of suffering or defeat, or
that only in the defeat could he triumph. We
are in a very contemporary world with the abundant questions of the goodness of
God and the Evil that continues to surround us. The
fact that evil is so obviously present, usually I must admit, in others, is used
as an argument against the existence of God and the divinity of Christ.
Death for most people is the end and some of them are still churchgoers.
The idea of triumphing over death is difficult for so many, yet the very success
of the Paralympics where almost all the participants have overcome, have risen
above terrible physical deprivations is surely a sign and "in earnest” of
resurrection. Jesus had produced a reply from Peter which probably
surprised him, hence the quick injunction to keep it secret but maybe Peter had
not even heard what he was saying; it just came out, as we say but he must have
been terribly hurt by the rebuke which he most certainly did hear. Jesus then
uses the unrivalled opportunity for some very plain speaking about discipleship;
the fate which so upset Peter, will come upon all who take up their cross.
The Roman Caesars and the many more wannabe Caesars all down the age dream of their triumph, the garland, the processions, the opportunity of having all they want, every desire no matter how outrageous to be satisfied, the newly ordained deacon dreams of being enthroned in some medieval cathedral, just imagining walking down an aisle wearing a pointy hat while the choir sings “I was glad”; some triumph that. Some of us would probably enjoy that, conveniently forgetting the awful downside of responsibility for tired and wayward clergy, the grave shortage of employable clergy and the agonising process of closing a much loved church; all this is sapping and bishops are up against it almost all the time. So are we the lucky ones? In CR a fuss is made when one is professed and we have lovely funerals, but what about the bit in between? If our vocation is true, if our life is a genuine call to discipleship then the cross must be very present, very real and very painful. For some, like me, the withdrawal from a work which seemed blessed and was certainly fulfilling, was very hard and some of us can remember those “returned empties” from many years of faithful pastoral work, probably in South Africa; they were lost and helpless, things had moved on since their novitiate perhaps as much as 50 years before, now there were no queues of penitents, no travelling about, just lots of church and then the gradual loosing of faculties, great loneliness and depression and questioning of this inscrutable God whom they felt they had served to the best of their ability and now for it to end like this, by inches. So maybe the cross does come, if not in very cross shaped manifestations.
So we all need to make sure that we are dressed in the armour of God and if we examine ourselves and find no real crucifixion let us be thankful and zealous for the life but be ready and prepared as best we may be that the Lord won’t be ashamed of us, nor the adversary below take us by surprise.
Aidan Mayoss CR