Clear. Plain. Crystal.
#ClearPlainCrystal is the podcast for September 16, 2018. The Golan Heights, a lush are of Israel today shows up in the lesson this Sunday. It competes for our attention. What other things are a distraction? Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Mark8 #Mark #GolanHeights #Messiah #Isaiah53 #Comfort #Luxury
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/16/2018 The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 8:27-35.
The Golan Heights is a section of now Israel that is Northeast of the Sea of Galilee. It has never had just one owner for any historical length of time. It is a place where the springs feed rivers, there are lush plateaus among the mountains, and the rock is a black basalt from previous volcanic eruptions. It is the sight, most recently in terms of conflict, of the Six Day War between Israel and Syria. Israel occupied the Golan Heights until they annexed it without event in 1981.
I mention all of this because the Golan is Caesarea Philippi. It got the name Caesarea Philippi during the reign of Herod as Tetrarch. He gave the area to his son Philip to rule. So, during Jesus’ day, the Golan was called by Philip’s name. It is a region, not necessarily a city. It would be a heady place to be in and of itself, let alone with Jesus walking about healing people, preaching, and turning water into wine.
Concurrent to this place of verdant scenes, we have this idea that amidst the Roman occupation, the Lord would send a Messiah to deliver the people from Roman rule. That was the most recent application of the idea of a Messiah in Jesus’ day. It is in this context that Jesus senses that the disciples are talking amongst themselves as to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks. They click off options: John the Baptist, raised from the dead; Elijah who the prophet Malachi says will return before the Messiah comes; a new prophet. It is Peter who says, “You are the Christ.” In other words, the person they have left behind careers, families, etc. to learn about and later to preach about, is the One. He is the One who is to be the leader of God’s people to salvation.
So, Jesus begins to lay out for them what kind of Messiah he is going to be. As Isaiah in Chapter 53 points out, “He was despised and rejected by men….wounded for our transgressions….the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all….he was oppressed,…afflicted,…like a lamb he was lead to the slaughter.” (If you want to understand the purpose of Jesus, just read Isaiah 53). Albert Schweizer, the famed New Testament Scholar, pointed out that it was an accepted tradition from the time the writing of Isaiah 53 that those who follow God as prophets will suffer.
So, when Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Jesus, it stands to reason that Peter reacts the way he does and that Jesus’ response is what it is. Peter is responding in the context of Caesarea Philippi: verdant pastures, full streams, exotic, deep, rich black rock, waterfalls, crops, etc. that come with such a place. He is responding to the desire to have this rich and lush place under the rule of the Jews, out of the hand of an occupying pagan force. Who wouldn’t want to have control of the richness of the Golan? Who wouldn’t want to have their wagon tied to someone who changes water into wine, heals the sick, raises the dead, and sets the oppressed free?
In this context, hearing the one who is the lead horse on the gravy train say, “My game plan is to suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests and religious authorities, be killed, and rise after three days,” would not be something I would want to hear. I would want to say, “Dude! You are on a roll! What? You can’t stop you now? Don’t ruin it!” This, basically, is what Peter is saying. He cannot see nor hear, as the reading for today from Isaiah 50 says. He is stuck in “this world.” He is trying to gain his life through using Christ as a way to make himself feel better, be healed, win a political battle, give him comfort, and, and, and… Does this sound even remotely familiar to us?
Those of us who follow Christ in comparative luxury, we can get blinded by our own “Golan Heights.” Our vision of God’s desire is clouded by the temptation of comfort, luxury, power, and prestige. If Jesus wins, then Peter is on top. This is the life we wish Jesus to win for us, too.
To this St. Augustine says this about this passage:
“This precept by which we are enjoined to lose our life does not mean that a person should kill themselves,…, but it does mean that one should kill that within themselves which is unduly attached to the earthly, which makes one take inordinate pleasure in this life.”
Thus Jesus speaks of gaining one’s life by being focused on giving life; being connected to the faith, the mission that God has. Seeing things “clearly” is understanding that the welfare of all humanity is our responsibility. We do not see nation states where one group is favored by God over another, nor do we see members of political parties favored over each other. We do not see the poor as immoral people who, as a group, must be lazy because they are poor. We see the poor as people. We do not see our wealth and our riches as our own. We see them as gifts from God for us to use for the advancement of his kingdom. We do not look at the beautiful or rich as those who have no needs and deserve our envy or contempt. We see them as people in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness, love and compassion.
My children had a principal who used to say, “If you believe in Jesus you will get a million dollars.” Well, it has been 37 years and my check, nor bills, nor gold bullion has showed up in my mail box or on my porch. Much of what we see depends upon what we are looking for in life. Are we looking for wealth through Jesus? Are we looking for health through Jesus? Are we looking for comfort through Jesus? Well, all those things are there, if they serve God’s mission to save the world.
The mission is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to the world by preaching the Good News: God does not hate us and has taken our sins upon himself to the cross as an eternal sacrifice. The mission is to live as a community of people whose life ethic and viewpoint on the world is marked by a vision of the living God toward each other and the world. We do not live as a condemning force, but as a redeeming force.
We lose sight of these things sometimes, just like Peter did. Our vision is clouded by sometimes valid needs and wants, but otherwise a connection to this world that prevents us from being free from the unhealthy oughts, shoulds, etc. of this earthly life.
Like Peter, what are the things to which we are attached in this world that might cause us to miss Church on Sundays? What are the things to which we are attached that would cause us to not make enough time for God in our lives? What are the things to which we are attached that would cause us to not do what the Lord wants us to do with our money, our property, our time, our talent? Whatever it is, we need to turn it and give it to the Lord. If we are not using it for the Lord, then we are not seeing clearly.
Last week I asked us to be open to the intimacy that Jesus wants with us. This week, I am asking us to take stock of our lives and ask if we see our purpose as God’s purpose, our things as God’s things. Do we? Do we see? If not, then how can we fulfill God’s mission? Maybe it is time for us make it crystal clear what we see. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2018.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian