St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Friday, 19 August 2011


August 21                               NOTES FOR REFLECTION                    Pentecost 10
Texts:  Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Theme.  The third Sunday in August is designated in our Church Calendar as Religious Vocations Sunday.  With this special purpose in mind perhaps a theme such as Professing our Faith might be appropriate; or seeing All Things Clearly.
Introduction.  The term “Religious Vocations” is one we have pinched from the Roman Catholic community.  In its traditional usage it has a pretty limited ambit – basically, priests, monks and nuns.  That’s far too narrow for today’s Church.  Today we recognise that ALL Christians have a vocation by virtue of their baptism.
This is made evident in our baptismal liturgies, and in particular in the following passage from page 391 of the Prayer Book, where the following exchange between the Bishop and a candidate for Confirmation is stated:
[Bishop]  Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God.  From the beginning, believers have continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.  Will you commit yourself to this life?
[Candidate]  I will, with God’s help.  Through God’s grace I will forgive others as I am forgiven; I will seek to love my neighbour as myself, and strive for peace and justice; I will accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in my daily life and work; with the whole Church I will proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ.
There in those few lines is the religious vocation of ALL THE BAPTISED.
Although today’s readings have not been selected specially for “Religious Vocations Sunday”, they are remarkably apposite.  Through the prophet Isaiah God calls our attention to himself; and St Paul exhorts us to worship and serve God with all we have and are.  Through St Matthew, Peter reminds us who it is we are called to follow in our daily life and work.  With these things clear we are fully equipped to fulfil our religious vocation by the grace of God.
Isaiah.  This is a classic example of oracular prophecy.  A call to reflect on what God has done in the past; and with that in mind to look to God in trust with hope for all he will do in the future.
This passage comprises 2 short poetic oracles, verses 1-3, and verses 4-6.  The connecting theme is the call to pay heed to God: each section begins with an exhortation to “Listen” (v. 1 & v. 4.)  The theme of paying careful attention is taken up by the frequent use of the word “look”.  The people should look to the rock from whence they were cut (v.1); they should look to Abraham and Sarah (v.2); the Lord will look with compassion on Israel’s ruins (v.3); the islands will look to God (v.5), and the people are told to lift their eyes to heaven and look at the earth beneath (v.6)
The message is similar to last week’s (56:1-8): it foretells the coming of God’s salvation (cf. the coming of the kingdom of heaven in the New Testament).  The message of salvation (N.T. the Good News) is first of all for the faithful – those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord”: probably a reference to the faithful remnant within Israel (v.1).  But in verse 2 it is broadened to include the whole of Israel, all the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  The reference to Sarah in such a context is unusual: possibly it is intended to remind the people how God brought new life out of a “dead womb” (so he can be trusted to restore Israel despite its present “hopeless” condition).  The whole land of Israel will be blessed and made whole again – the Edenic curse will be lifted (v.3).
Then the message broadens again to include all nations: salvation is universal in its reach (vv.4 &5).  Furthermore, it is eternal: heaven and earth will pass away but God’s salvation has no end (v.6).
Taking It Personally.
·       What does this passage tell you about the nature of God?  Jot down the divine characteristics as they come to you in pondering this passage.
·       Can you recall an instance in your own life when you experienced any one of those characteristic of God?
·       What reason have you for trusting in God’s goodness towards you in the future?
·       How does this passage help you to understand your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?
Romans.  Paul has now finished his anxious study of the salvation of the Jews, even though they have rejected the Messiah.  He has concluded that, because of God’s covenant with Abraham which is irrevocable, God will have mercy on them and forgive their sins.  Thus God’s mercy is available to all; Jews because of the Old Covenant and Christians because of the New.  He now turns to our response to that mercy.  In a word, the proper human response is worship, but worship understood as a wholehearted offering of ourselves (all that we have and are) to God (v.1).  This calls for a new mindset – a new way of understanding and looking at the world – a new value system.  We must no longer conform to the way of the world – commonsense – the herd mentality – peer pressure.  Our minds must be renewed: only thus may we discern God’s will and be able to follow it (v.2).
Three other things.  First, we must get to know our real selves – our true selves.  We must be real – stop hiding behind our carefully constructed public masks.  “Sober judgment” excludes both boasting and false modesty (v.3).  Secondly, we’re not alone: we belong to one another.  The Privacy Act should not apply within the Body of Christ (vv. 4 & 5).  Thirdly,
we have each been given gifts with which to serve one another: our task is to discern our gifts and to use them as best we can (v.6).
Taking It Personally.
·       Spend some time pondering verse 1.  Do you agree that it is consistent with the religious vocation summarised in the baptismal liturgy (above)?
·       Is your own commitment to God consistent with this teaching?  Do you need to make any changes?
·       Are there any areas where you conform too much to the pattern of this world?
·       When was the last time you prayed for the renewal of your mind?  When will the next time be?
·       Write a completely true statement about your character.  No boasting and no false modesty: just sober judgment.  What do you find difficult about this exercise?
·       Do you feel that you belong to the other members of the Church, and they to you?  How does this belonging manifest itself in practice?
·       What gifts has God given you with which to serve the Church?  Are you presently exercising those gifts?  What impediments are there (if any)?
·       How does this passage help you to fulfil your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?

Matthew.  Chapter 16 opens with the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to Jesus to demand “a sign from heaven” – presumably, something to establish his prophetic credentials (at the very least).  He tells them none will be given except “the sign of Jonah”.  Then follows yet another boat trip across the lake in which Jesus warns them to be on their guard against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Now they are in Caesarea Philippi, the seat of Roman military and political power in the region, with all its massive and impressive buildings that all this entailed.  It is against this background that Jesus quizzes them about his true identity.  First, he wants to know the talk on the street: who do Joe and Josephine Public say he is?  The answer ought to surprise us on two grounds.  First, hard as it is for us to remember, at the time few would have heard or met Jesus, so it is surprising that so many have apparently formed any opinion on the subject.  Even more, it should surprise us that there was such a widespread acceptance of the idea of reincarnation, at least for prophets.

Then Jesus cuts to the chase.  The real question is never about the opinions/beliefs of others: the question for each of us is, who do I say Jesus is?  Jesus addresses this question to all of them: “you” in v.15 is plural.  Simon Peter answers; and scholars are divided on whether he does so as an individual or as the spokesman for them all.  Either way, Jesus is delighted; the answer is not borne of human wisdom, but has come to Peter from above (we might call it “inspired”, meaning the work of the Spirit).

There is a similar division of opinion on verse 18, this one of much more serious import.  The traditional view (at least in RC circles) is that Peter himself is the rock on which Jesus will build his church.  The opposing view is that it is on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God that the Church will be built.  In other words, the Church is a gathering of those who affirm the same belief about Jesus rather than those who follow Peter.

Taking It Personally.
·        Picture a large, important military town.  Imagine the impressive buildings, the height and thickness of the walls, the towers and turrets.  Now picture the military ceremonies, the horsemen, the chariots, the ritual of the changing of the guard, etc.  Against that background picture this small group of men, Jesus and his disciples.  Listen again to the dialogue.  Does it sound out of place?
·        Who do your family, friends, acquaintances and neighbours say Jesus is?  Do any care enough to have any opinion on the matter?
·        Who do you say he is?  Why?  What difference to your life does your belief make?
·        Take up your keys.  Look at them.  What purpose do they serve?  Who would you let have them, and who would you keep them from?
·        Now repeat the exercise, this time imagining that they are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
·        How does this passage help you to fulfil your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?

No comments:

Post a Comment