The real identity of Jesus

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :-

Our gospel, (Luke 9:18-24) is about the revelation of the identity of Jesus through Peter who acclaims him as The Christ of God, in other words the messiah whom many in Israel were longing for. In its long history there were many messianic claims made by different men. This was not a claim to divinity but it was a claim to having been specially chosen by God to be the national leader (usually in default of its kings) and more often than not expected to be someone who could be a military leader who would throw the foreign occupying forces, from which ever nation they might currently be out of Palestine so that they could become an independent state, on equal terms – if not superior to its enemies. During the Jewish Revolt at least one military rebel was acclaimed messiah and so was the later Bar Kockbar who led the final revolt against the Romans in the early 2nd century. Jesus we notice does not seem particularly comfortable with Peter’s acclaim, for he instructs his disciples to remain silent on it, which is rather odd when he has just asked them who they thought he was. Instead he refers to the term by which he habitually called himself: The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day. No, unlike us who jumble all the different ascriptions of Jesus together, Jesus did not and clearly rejected Peter’s claim of messiahship, albeit gently, only to set his self-definition in entirely other terms. He is in fact the eschatological Son of Man, bringer of the full reign of God on earth and clearly not some jumped up military leader but rather the One who, through his own suffering and death will rise from the dead to see God’s will entirely fulfilled in his faithfulness. Jesus then goes on to encourage his followers to be true images of himself – icons, means of entry into the life of God himself through emulating his own life of suffering and self sacrifice.

St Paul, one of the greatest exponents of what it means to be a Christian understood this very well as we see in his Letter to the Galatians (3:26-29).

All the way through this letter he delivers a diatribe against relying on any following of the torah, the Jewish law as the means to salvation in Christ. He had previously spoken of his own life as a devout Pharisee and of the complete revolution in his understanding brought about by the Holy Spirit. What we notice here is that he does not reject being numbered among the posterity of Abraham – originally a foreigner and non Jew, who hailed from what is now Southern Iraq and who then worshipped different gods. It was on his own long journey up to the Holy Land that Abraham discovered Yahweh and an entirely new relationship to divinity for man. Whilst Judaism saw Abraham as the founder of their race, they had conveniently forgotten that their Torah and its laws were a later development which Christ and following him, Paul came to see as having usurped approach to God. Paul saw that the Torah laws were impossibly restrictive and moreover that these laws which were only designed to guide men to God had become a shibboleth and were believed to be the only way to God. He saw that Jesus Christ had simply bypassed the demands of the law and that his grace alone was sufficient, and so he says merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised. Paul, like Jesus did not reject the founding significance of Judaism in the search for God, nor do we today, for we always read a portion of the OT in our Sunday Mass as part of our re-entry into the saving life of Christ the Jew and we can never escape the origins of our faith.  Paul is at pains to point out that in Christian baptism you and I and all believers are now clothed in Christ. We are no longer just our own, but His, his people. This was a concept quite familiar to ancient people from the theatre where the mask’s of Greek plays meant that the actor ‘became’ Oedipus or Clytemnestra, so entering into the part as to be divinely inspired to act the role. Similarly in the Roman army the soldier’s oaths totally bound them to the service of the empire. We are now no longer free agents, but totally committed to Christ, putting on his persona as our gospel requires.

This too is the import of our rather obscure reading from Zechariah, (12:10-11. 13:1) which speaks of the mourning and clearly savage defeat of Israel in the Plain of Megiddo (Armageddon) and of their exile, clearly God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness and of their return due to the compassion of God and their reform. The nation experienced this as a fountain opened for the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, washing away sin and impurity, recreating them in the divine image. We, like our ancient ancestors in the faith of Abraham need to accept this gift of divine grace given and placed deep within us and our psalm, part of Ps 62 enforces and re-echoes this entire change of understanding in our approach to God, one of longing, thirsting, gazing, blessing, clinging to the God in the shadow of whose wings we rejoice.

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