Homily 12th Sunday C – 96
Because I lived in Washington, DC for 15 years, I would often go to those mass demonstrations on the national mall. Pro-life marches annually from 1990 – 2001, marches for housing and employment in 1996, the Million Man March in 1995, even the Promise Keepers in 1997. I was something of an equal-opportunity marcher, although truth be told I was usually just watching everyone else march. I somehow missed the Million Mom March against Gun Violence, the Over 9000 Anonymous March protesting the Church of Scientology, the Million Puppet March, which drew only 1500 people not counting the puppets, and the famous 2010 March to restore Sanity and/or Fear, sponsored by John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Since the year 2000 there have been more than 100 mass gatherings on the national mall. Every one of these marches complained that the National Park Service underestimated their attendance (something they haven’t actually done since 1995), and the media– obviously in the pocket of whoever seems to be running things in Washington– didn’t give them enough coverage. Another thing that all these crowds had in common was that they were so pleased with themselves for being there, that they were completely uncritical of who was marching with them, and of what their speakers were saying. There wasn’t any information being exchanged. Each of these gatherings was a more-or-less well-ordered mob, having a good time, feeling important and empowered, with utterly no critical thinking going on. That’s the way crowds work.
Today’s Gospel isn’t so much about who Jesus really is, as it is a warning about following the crowd. Jesus asks the disciples who the crowd says he is. And the crowd gets it wrong. When Jesus asks who the disciples themselves say that he is, he’s reinforcing the idea that their own experience and knowledge of him is more important, and more to be trusted, than the crowd’s changing—and incorrect—opinions. These two questions are immediately followed by a prediction of his own suffering and death. Why? Because Jesus knows that the same crowd that doesn’t really know who he is, will be the crowd that screams for his execution. They are going to get it wrong again.
And then Jesus tells the disciples that to be his follower means following him to the cross, and being willing to lose one’s life. He knows this will be true, because the crowd that doesn’t really know him is still going to be out there.
And they are still out there. If you are depending on the crowd to tell you who Jesus is, you’re going to get a wrong answer. If your knowledge of him comes from the media, or from our cultural appropriation of Christ, then you’ll have the wrong answer.
If you look at what passes for our national religious leaders, what kind of Jesus would you know? The preachers on television, the ones with the big, national ministries, gathering all the political power they can, will show you a Jesus who judges and divides people. They’ll show you a Jesus who sends special blessings to big financial contributors. They’re selling a Jesus who’s love is conditional. And they’re wrong.
We need to count on our religious leaders—even our own bishops—to bring us together, and not to divide us. In Christ these divisions should be irrelevant. In Christ there is no Jew of Greek, no slave or free, no man or woman. There is no black or white, no rich or poor, no gay or straight. In Christ there is no Democrat or Republican, nothing that divides us from each other. All are one in Christ Jesus.
But somehow, the most prominent religious voices in our country seem to be the ones that pander to the crowd, sowing division and intolerance. Where is the spirit of grace and petition that Zechariah talks about in the first reading? Where is the Christ that draws us together, that Paul writes about?
I think one of the reasons that Pope Francis is so popular, and is having such an effect on so many people, is that he has emphasized the mission of the Church to reach out to the marginalized, to draw people together, and to bring to the Church a deeper sense of discipleship.
The question still hangs in the air: Who do you say that Jesus is? If the answer you give leads people to the Jesus of the Gospel, you’re on the right track. If your answer compels you to lead a life of compassion, reconciliation, and service, then you’re headed in the right direction. If your answer to this question leads you to the cross—your cross– then you know you are a disciple. If your answer to who Jesus is leads you to power, or to division, then you are still hearing the voice of the crowd.
The world still needs to hear who Jesus is, and what he has done for us. Like Peter and the disciples, we have to answer based on our own experience of Jesus. The healing, grace, and compassion we have received, are what the crowd out there needs. If we are fearful, and constantly worried about self-preservation “saving our lives,” then we’ll lose them. But if we can let go of our fears and our need for power, being willing to lose our lives for the sake of Christ, then we’ll find salvation and live in peace. It’s a hard message to hear over the din of the crowd.