Wild Lectionary: Who do we say…

dear-tree-combo17th Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 19 (24)B
Mark 8:27-38

By Rev. Dr. Victoria Marie

The concrete and asphalt jungle of the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill sections of Brooklyn are where I thought my heart and emotions were nourished. I thought my city dweller life and lifestyle defined me. It wasn’t until in I was in art therapy grieving the loss of several family members that I discovered the longing in my heart for nature’s spaces and places. Buildings, streets and other signs of city life were nowhere in my art works. Rather, they were of the sea, rocks, flora and fauna. It was self-discovery—a deeper look into who I am.

In today’s gospel, Jesus asks the disciples, the crowd and us, “who do you say that I am?” He wants us to look beyond what others say. Peter does this when he proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. But Jesus wants us to look even deeper. He goes on to specify the sort of Messiah he is—one who will suffer, die, and rise again.

This is too much for Peter, who responds by rebuking Jesus. Jesus in turn reprimands Peter as a “Satan” whose thoughts are operating on a surface level rather than a deep and spiritual one. Peter’s “half-percipient, half-insensible condition[1]” is a result of a struggle between divine revelation and falsely self-protective resistance. We have to ask ourselves what kind of Messiah do we think Jesus is? Likewise, we have to ask, what is our Messiah asking of us because:

[I]t is not only the disciples who are mustered by Jesus…, the crowd, too, is summoned to join the march…. The Markan Jesus’ call to follow him in the hard way of discipleship …is not a “counsel of perfection” addressed to a spiritual elite but the apocalyptically realistic advice that, for everyone, life is only to be found treading the pathway of death.[2]

The kind of Messiah we envision influences our actions and our worldview. If we envision a Messiah, who returns to destroy the world; who is going to raise some to an unearthly heavenly paradise and condemn others to a fiery hell, do we then have little concern for this world and its inhabitants? Do we find it easier to deny or ignore climate change, the suffering of human and non-human others because the problems of this world are of no consequence because our attention and our efforts are focused on a world/paradise to come? Are we blind to the face of Christ in our midst?

On the other hand, if we see our Incarnate Messiah as the mediator between the Creator and the created, who invites us into the Trinitarian dance of love, mercy, care and concern, can we help but be impelled to work for justice in all its forms? Do we care about the fate of refugees and work to eliminate the causes, such as war and economic injustice? Are we concerned about the causes climate change? Do we work to save orangutans in Indonesia, elephants in Africa and the whales in our own Salish Sea and the salmon in our rivers?

I’m talking/writing to myself as well as to you. We are slaves to our gadgets, petroleum products, and our conveniences. The Messiah of today’s gospel calls us to ponder deeply who we are because if we are to follow him, we are called to die to our old way of doing things. It is a calling to die to the things the bind us in slavery and blind us to how that slavery is endangering our world. Our Incarnate Messiah calls us to care for the gift of Creation that was breathed into being by God and given into our care.

Who do we say Jesus is? Who do we say we are? While the kind of Messiah we envision influences how we act, it is who we say we are that determines if and how we take up our cross and follow. We have to question if we are people who profess faith in Jesus but who do not live it out; people who say the right things but do no back up their words with action.[3] The question then is, when I dig deep and search my heart, do my deeds correspond with who I say I am? For all of us, I pray: Let it be so.

Victoria Marie is is co-founder of the Vancouver Catholic Worker, on unceded Coast Salish Territory. She is a priest, spiritual director, and pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Roman Catholic Women Church Community and author of Transforming Addiction: The role of spirituality in learning recovery from addiction (Scholars Press, 2014). This reflection is a shared or dialogue homily where Vikki gives a short “homily starter” then those present offer their reflections.

Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

[1] Marcus, Joel. Mark 8-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 609

[2] Marcus, Joel. Mark 8-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 624

[3] Bergant, Dianne, and Richard N. Fragomeni. Preaching the New Lectionary: Year B. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1999, 359.

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