Dive deeper into the gospel with weekly letters from our pastor, Father Stephen Thompson.
From the Pastor’s Desk
September 11-12, 2021
Dear family and friends of Holy Family and St. Mary and St. Mark Parishes,
We celebrate the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Psalmist says, “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” I must admit that over time I became a huge fan of the television series “The Walking Dead.” Besides the obvious theme of the series being that the remaining living people of the world fought against the living dead, that is zombies, killing them by whatever means they could devise, there is an underlying theme of the series that if you pay attention you gain a greater appreciation for the series. There are factions among different groups of people called kingdoms who did what ever they could do to survive, even if it meant stealing from other kingdoms, killing off members of the factions, or negotiating in order to create alliances. It has the feel of the Middle Ages, only in modern times. What we learn throughout history is that human beings have had to adapt to their surroundings and had to fight for survival any way they could. Think of kings having great power and great responsibility in protecting their kingdoms. Some kings fought other kings and their armies either to defend their particular kingdom or to conquer the other kingdom, thus procuring land and resources to grow their empire. Human beings have not changed much today. We have our factions and rather than kings have presidents and prime ministers to lead nations. We still have armies of various sizes throughout the world fighting for supremacy and power, and what has replaced stealing the spoils of other nations is building up economies through taking in income through trading of resources and production and spending on infrastructure to keep the wheels of world dominance in check. What is missing today, as has been the case throughout human history, is the dependence of people on the God of all creation. We believe that we can survive without God doing things the way we always have done.
In our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Prophet presents to the people of Israel and to us the Suffering Servant, the Messiah to come. The way that Isaiah presents this new king to come is counter to the vision that the people had of a great king. The King to come would not turn his back on God, he would be beaten and persecuted by the people he served, he would deal with opposing forces not by force but with love. Imagine what the people of Israel wanted in a king. They wanted someone who would defeat their enemies, leaders of oppressing nations, they wanted freedom to practice their religious practices without fear of reprisal, and they wanted to keep the Commandments of God in order to receive the benefits of their faithfulness. The image of the king that Isaiah presents is counter to what the people wanted. Yes, they wanted God to come to their defense, but on their terms. To walk with God and to receive true freedom as preached by Moses, the prophets, and Jesus Himself was to be humble and to die to self. They couldn’t keep doing the things they did before while breaking the Commandments and still expect to please God. There would have to be change in their lives, a conversion or metanoia, in order to experience God’s presence in their midst. This is why for us to follow Christ is to enter into His suffering, death, and resurrection. We must conform our lives to His in order to experience true freedom from the ways of the world.
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear about Jesus and His disciples setting out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is in the Northern Kingdom of Israel under the kingship of Phillip, the son of King Herod of Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom. King Herod served as the King of Jerusalem prior to the birth of our Lord. Caesarea Philippi became a very pagan territory in the Northern Kingdom and it was an area of great wealth because it sat along the Mediterranean along the trade route into Egypt. Jesus, after sending His disciples out to preach to the people of the region, calls them back and asks the question that we hear today, “Who do people say that I am?” The replies come, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” Jesus asks them on a very personal level, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, without hesitation says, “You are the Christ.” How did Peter know this? Perhaps during his travels with Jesus, he realizes that Jesus is more than just a man after witnessing many of His miracles. Peter, as with the other disciples, had been taught throughout his life the scriptures revealing what Moses and the Prophets taught about the coming Messiah. They were taught to pay attention to the signs of the one who would come as revealed to be the savior of Israel. For us, as disciples of Jesus, it is imperative that we make an individual profession of faith in order to state what we believe about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The question of Jesus to His Apostles is a question He asks of us. Who do we say He is? It is a matter of faith.
St. James, in his letter to the disciples of Jesus, says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” These are very important questions asked of the disciples in the days of the Apostle James. St. James links faith and works together, meaning that they are inseparable. When he talks about a brother or sister having nothing to wear or nothing to eat and we say, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” without actually providing for their needs, we show neither faith or good works. It is similarly true when we say to someone who comes to us with a complex issue or a difficult situation that we will pray for them. What if we prayed with them, or offered to help them, or just simply sat with them and listened to them offering consolation? Actions go a long way in demonstrating our faith in the Lord. It can be difficult these days to discern what we ought to do when people come our way that we don’t know and need assistance. We might question whether they are truly in need or be fearful that we will be used or put in danger. We will never find out unless we are willing to take a risk. However, prudence is necessary when we are trying to discern how best to help. Taking care of someone’s needs doesn’t mean necessarily that we do it without exercising good judgement. Think of the drug addict who is looking for money to secure his or her next fix, it would not be prudent to give the addict money to quell their addiction. This person needs the help of a professional who can help him or her to overcome the addiction. Think of the alcoholic asking for money to buy another drink or enough alcohol to satisfy his or her addiction. We cannot fall into codependency where we try to pacify the addiction rather than meeting it head-on. To walk with the Lord is to walk with our brothers and sisters in need, whether it be their physical, psychological, or spiritual needs needing to be met.
God bless you all,