24 September 2009

Seeing, believing and relationships

Jesus before Herod Antipas (Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308)

Patrick Comerford

Opening Prayer (the Collect of the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity):

O Lord,
Hear the prayers of your own people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of Sunday next, Trinity 16, speaks about perception and knowing. And the Gospel reading provided in the Lectionary for the Eucharist today (Luke 9: 7-9) provides an interesting insight into the difference between perception and knowledge, between seeing and knowing (parallel texts: Matthew 14: 1-2; Mark 6: 14-16).

Herod is perplexed by who people were saying Jesus was (verse 7). The disciples later report the same discussion among the people too: some say that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, some that he is Elijah, others that he is one of the ancient prophets (cf verses 7-8 and verse 19).

Herod is a practical, pragmatic and realistic man. He knows the first answer cannot be not true – he has already had John executed, and he knows Elijah and the other prophets are dead.

And so the sceptic in Herod wants to see for himself (verse 9). I have to say I find it easy to identify with the sceptical Herod’s dilemma here. He talks in analytical and descriptive terms.

Like all rookie journalists are trained to at the beginning of their careers, Herod wants to ask those essential questions: Who? Where? What? Why? He wants tangible and empirical evidence. But there is no talk relationship.

Compare Herod’s story with how disciples are asked to ponder the same question later in this chapter (verses 18-20).

They tell Jesus that they too have heard people say he is John the Baptist raised from the dead, some that he is Elijah, others that he is one of the ancient prophets. But, unlike Herod, they can see Jesus. And when he asks them that searching question, “But who do you say that I am?” (verse 20), Peter answers for himself: “The Messiah of God” (verse 20).

Yet Jesus sternly orders and commands them to tell this to no-one (verse 21) and then immediately proceeds to talk about himself in terms of relationship – he calls himself “The Son of Man.”

Who is Christ for you? How would you answer this question?

Ponder for a moment if you were asked who someone close to you is, who he or she is for you.

Quite often we described the ones we love most and who love us most in terms of relationship: Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Sister, Brother, Wife, Husband. Not as teacher, doctor, social worker, or whatever.

The disciples have given a role answer about Jesus rather than a relationship answer.

Consider what your relationship is with the people you are closest to. And what words best describe your relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Are they kinship words?

Are they words that imply and point to mutual love?

What is the evidence of that love?

How does God show love to you? Be thankful.

How do you show love for God? Be thankful.

Let us conclude with the prayer Jesus has taught us, the Lord’s Prayer, which open by affirming our relationship with God:

“Our Father …”

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at a meeting of the academic staff on Thursday 24 September 2009.

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