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24th Sunday in ordinary time: Quantum leap needed

Today’s readings: Isaiah 5, 5-9; James 2, 14-18; Mark 8, 27-35.

In any evolutionary process, whether it concerns religion, matter or consciousness, there are important thresholds that mark qualitative leaps forward. Life never settles down for a status quo. That would amount to the negation of life. In our approach to religion and to the way we internalise the life of the spirit, such leaps are vital and we need to keep our eyes wide open to discern when and how that is happening.

Today’s Scriptural readings are to be read in this sense. There are times when in religion we take a lot for granted and we think things are set in stone. Maybe this is the dogmatist ap­proach that has damaged religion throughout history. In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah represents this provocation. At a delicate point in Israel’s history, Isaiah provokes the people to think out of the box where God is concerned.

In St Mark’s gospel today, Jesus is also provoking his disciples to discern wisely and distinguish between popular perceptions about him and his real identity. This marks a turning point in what Jesus ultimately wanted to convey to his opponents, to the crowds and to his disciples. Up to that moment many were comfortably following Jesus the miracle-worker.

The context was the Hellenistic city of Caesarea-Philippi, where St Mark introduces the discourse on discipleship with Jesus interrogating his disciples about how he was perceived. St Peter’s answer switches the discourse to a radically new level, affirming Jesus as the “Christ”, that is, the Messiah. At this point, St Mark says: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes”.

Since it was a turning point, “he began to teach them”. Jesus was to be rejected not only for political motives but also for religious ones. It is a clash of religious perspectives for people who preferred to keep doing what they always did and believed in, but who resisted innovation. Despite St Peter describing Jesus as the Christ, soon after Jesus himself corrects Peter’s fantasies in quite a bitter exchange.

There are misconceptions in religion that need to be corrected. We need to ask what we are doing as believers. Are we doing exactly what we should be doing? Is our mission today simply to do what we have been doing for ages? Are we projecting to future generations the right understanding about religion, faith, Christian living?

In the second reading, St James is also quite provoking. If faith is merely words, and little or nothing transpires from it in concrete deeds, then it is no faith at all. It is a faith that cannot save. The question is to what extent does the faith we profess impact our way of being – attitudes, perceptions, reading of reality around us, the way we react to whatever comes our way.

Today’s questions in the Gospel text are pivo­tal: “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” We live in times that are a turning point in humanity’s history and perhaps also in the evolution of religions. Everyone is personally called to be accountable where our belief is concerned, to clearly distinguish between the tradition we have received as teachings and what we are internalising of it.

Faith needs to be owned. Otherwise we fail to distinguish between religion received and religion lived. Looking around us, there is still so much religion that is simply the residue of a tradition many are still happy with. But the Scriptures and the times we live in provoke us not to keep living in our fantasy world of religion.

We continue to project Christianity as a religious tradition, teaching catechism to children, dishing out sacraments to people, and providing rituals in our churches which many a time and for many people fail to be liturgies that touch their lives. Christianity is about making disciples. If we do not make the quantum leap needed in our way of seeing and living our religion, we will continue to perpetuate an idolatrous religion rather one that opens our heart to worship the true God.

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