Saturday, August 22, 2020

Identity is for the Greater Glory of God

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Readings: Isaiah 22:15, 19–23; Psalm 138:1–3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33–36;  Matthew 16:13–20
Christ Handing the keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino
Know thyself 
As I write these few lines taking the readings of this Sunday, I am in the midst of teaching a course on theology. I am dealing with the development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I imagine how the whole world is enveloped by the grace of this Spirit. The Spirit speaks and in fact speaks boldly. This is what made Simon Peter to say with such courage and determination, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” when Jesus asked his disciples “But who do you say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:15-16).

Why did Jesus ask this particular question to his disciples? What did he expect from them? Identity is very crucial in our world. Who are you in this world, in your congregation, in your company, in your institution, in your neighbourhood, in your village, town, city, state, country, etc., determines your place not just in this secular world, but even in the religious world? Your identity matters. Identity gives life and a purpose to live. A good identity is must and a norm.

Jesus had a clear identity about his work and the life he conducted. People knew him as a prophet, like those major prophets of the Bible, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Mat 16:14). It seems to me making known his identity mattered a lot for Jesus. "By knowing oneself you can care for yourself better" writes, Socrates, the philosopher. This does not mean that Jesus did not know himself. He knew very well his identity but certainly wanted a feedback from his own disciples. Knowledge about oneself from close circle of friends matter a lot to pursue the future course of teaching or action. That must be the reason why Jesus asks this question: Who do people say that I am?

Clarifying the identity
However, we might like to ask why Jesus was particularly interested in getting a clear testimony from his disciples? Because they had grown in familiarity with him. Jesus' life with his chosen one's was indeed a fruitful one and quite extensive. They had understood him correctly, otherwise they would have deserted him as already the powerful in Jewish society began to reject him; all the more tried to kill him.

Once Jesus' identity is clarified, Peter is praised for his honesty and for his openness to the manifestation of God's revelation through his mouth.  Peter is given a new task of sharing the same identity of his Master to others, furthermore, preserving the authentic memory  and giving it to others with his fellow disciples because they have seen and lived with him.

This episode also invites us to grow in familiarity with the person of Jesus. All the more, it invites us to experience Jesus completely and wholly so that we may get the right identity of the person of Jesus. It is not sufficient to know what others say about Jesus. What matters the most is what is my experience of Jesus? And  who is Jesus for me very personally and intimately?

Longer you stay better the familiarity
Jesus is not only quite satisfied with the answer of Peter but also overjoyed and gives a task to him. This task gives Peter an identity of who he will be in the Jesus movement, the nascent Church. He would be the a guiding lamp to his fellow brothers in taking forward the mission of Jesus. Moreover, he would be leading them as their leader. To put it precisely in the words of Matthew, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16: 18-19). With the intense familiarity with the person of Jesus, Peter is blessed with a gift of binding and performing things happen in the name of Jesus which otherwise would not have happen through his hands.

Familiarity is blessed with gifts
With our clear and open familiarity with him, Jesus gives us the possibility in participating in his life. In the words of Peter because of our knowledge of him, Jesus has given us everything we need even a call to participate in His own glory, excellence and godliness. Moreover, Jesus has "granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you [we] may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). That is to say, by knowing and experiencing Jesus intimately we would be able to reach that final goal of our salvation which we call theosis or divinization. Here we will be able to see God face to face. What St Paul would tell us in his letter to the Corinthians: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).

To grow in familiarity, external support is must
Peter could answer the question of Jesus even before other disciples could testify because it was revealed to him from up above. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:16). In the difficult moments and especially when you are lost in those familiar places one who comes to our rescue is the Father who is in heaven. In the words of Jesus himself "do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). In fact, he Holy Spirit not only energises Christian preaching, but ensures its christological content, for it is the Spirit's function to 'call to mind' and 'declare the things of Christ' (John 14:25; 15:26-7; 16:14). These above encouraging words of Jesus should certainly motivate us to grow in familiarity with the Lord.

Identity is for the greater glory of God.
The above explanation brings us to the important aspect of our Christian life. Whatever we are, whatever we have and whatever we do, it is for the greater glory of God. The motto of the Society of Jesus has been this: "Everything is for the greater glory of God’. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. The whole of creation that exists is to reflect the glory of God. St Paul emphatically puts it so well: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).

Peter's capacity to give a right judgement on the authenticity of Jesus as well has God's revelation to him who Jesus is for him was fundamentally to give glory to God. Whatever apostolates or works that we do as religious, priests, Nuns, or lay people is to give glory to God including the creation of a family or progeny.

God might be beyond our understanding. But if we honestly search for God, he will reveal himself, moreover, give us his experience. Therefore we cannot misuse the gift of revelation that God has given to us. The account from the prophet Isaiah tells us that the chosen Shebna exploited his position for his personal gain and God chose and gifted Eliakim to replace him (Isaiah 22:15, 21–23).

In responding to this question of the identity of Jesus my life itself is shaped; moreover my identity in Jesus finds its fulfilment. We are never alone in our lives when we are identified with Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord will always guide us whatever may the challenge be. The adventure of our life will be possible then when my faith is strong and my convictions have solid foundations on that same Creator who created you and me.  This will transform everything including what I am and what I do.

Questions for Reflections:
1. Do you feel the presence of God in your life?  If so, what does it feel like?
2. How deep and profound is the experience of Jesus/God in my life?
3. Have I been able to describe my experience of God to others?
4. Does God sometimes seem absent from your life? What are those  moments like?

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

22 August 2020


Joilin @gmail.com said...

One is truly surprised how you could present great thoughts with a simple language! Your articles are the tangible fruits of your tireless efforts to spread the Gospel. Thanks for your enlivening message.

Unknown said...

Father, your reflection is very inspiring and revitalizing. I am sure that this reflections will touch the heart of many. May God bless you with good health of body and mind

Unknown said...

Really inspiring 🙏🙏

Meenu Mary Margaret said...

Father thank you for this article on identity. For us as Christians our identity with Jesus is what shapes us and guides us. Very well you have brought out instances from the life of Jesus about knowing one's identity. May you renew the hearts of many people through your writings.

Unknown said...

Good reflections! It made me to think and transformed me. Thank you Olvin for such a great thoughts.

Unknown said...

Wonderful reflections. I truly enjoyed these reflections. I appreciate the topic that you have chosen: Identity. It helped me take some time and ponder over on my own life once again.

Sebi said...

A mind twisting article! This article is really captivating and makes me want to read more. Because from the beginning till the end, every heading carries an apt message which is great. Many thanks to the inspirer.

Vincy said...

My friends introduced me to your blog. Everyone said it's a good one. And couldn't resist from reading it and finally I started reading it from last night. To my surprise, I found almost all the articles to be very inspiring. I absolutely enjoyed the insightful messages. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Your article inspired me to breathe holiness as I move and have my being.

Joy said...

Absolutely one of the best article! Cherished your thoughts and energized by its depth. It's rightly recommended for everyone. Wonderful work!

Unknown said...

Your article became the thought for the day. It served as an introduction and conclusion to the prayer meeting for the good number of people of fine age. All honour and glory to God. Heart felt thanks to you.