In the world but not of the world

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 27 August 2023
Isaiah 22:19-23 ><]]]]'> Romans 11:33-36 ><]]]]'> Matthew 16:13-20
Photo by author, Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 12 July 2023.

Nothing remains permanent in this world except change. And God who alone forever remains.

Though times change with new and unexpected situations that raise questions never thought of before, we are constantly challenged to make God present in Jesus Christ with our lives of witnessing as his disciples in every age.

That is why Jesus has been teaching us these past weeks of having faith in him alone, of nurturing that relationship with him especially in this time when many are deleting God not only from their lives but even in their history as a nation.

But, despite these human attempts since Adam and Eve to turn away from God, despite the many developments and advancements we have had, we humans still long for God in the end, eventually ending up searching for what is divine and holy, totally different and permanent who gives meaning to us and our existence.

Jesus shows us this Sunday the surest way of keeping our faith alive in these troubled times, in becoming his presence in the ever-changing world with its many shifting trends and paradigms.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:13-17

Photo by author, Caesarea in northern Israel near Tyre and Sidon in Syria, May 2019.

Jesus continues his journey into pagan territories, from Tyre and Sidon last week to Caesarea Philippi today. Of course, his journeys were not really geographical in nature but spiritual; nonetheless, Jesus this Sunday is teaching us something very important about discipleship which is to be in the world but never to be of the world.

Let us reflect on the two crucial methods used by Jesus.

First, he made a survey of the situation, of assessing and getting a clearer picture of what is happening at the ground level. I find this very “incarnational” in nature. It speaks so well of his very own kenosis, of becoming human like us in everything except sin. Jesus is so in touch with realities, so grounded with the people when he asked the Twelve, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

Jesus dared to ask to know the truth, unafraid of what people might be saying about him. So unlike of us who are afraid to hear and learn the truth about us especially if that could be painful. Until now, Jesus continues to be in the world, grounded and rooted in the realities of our lives, journeying with us without us being aware of him. The tragedy of our time is how so many of us believe and take social media and the internet as the reality, failing to distinguish reality from virtual-reality!

Look at how so many people live their lives these days as a telenovela, a mere show so that when reality bites, they collapse and cave in. Many are so far from life’s realities and thus become out-of-touch with themselves, with others, and the world. And that includes us in the Church that people find us irrelevant because we are out of sync with them in many aspects of life.

And that was the result of the Lord’s survey! People got it all wrong who he is because they got mixed signals from witnesses and his disciples themselves, including us in our own time! When we lack that deep and personal relationship with Jesus, the Christ we proclaim becomes far from the truth, a big lie from who he really is. These are grace-filled moments from God for us to open anew to him and most of all, to be able for us to level up in our existence.

Here we have Simon Peter as our example and model. See how he had greatly changed in God’s grace, from the proud and doubting fisherman last Sunday to a highly inspired disciple today, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

This is the high-point of our gospel this Sunday, of being in the world and not of the world. See at how Jesus categorically declared to the Twelve not only the precision and truth of Peter’s answer to the Lord’s question of who do you say that I am; more important here is the fact that such knowledge and wisdom can only come from God as a revelation which St. Paul expressed so lovely in our second reading, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For from him and through him and for him are all things” (Rom. 11:33, 36).

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

The late Casey Kasem, host of the American Top 40 radio show used to sign off saying, “Keep reaching for the stars but keep your feet on the ground.”

What a beautiful reminder that for us to level up in our existence, we have to be grounded with God and reality, of being aware of the dirt and chaos in this world yet, we continue to strive to become better persons, to rise to the top as man as man in the image and likeness of God.

Here lies one of our problems in the Church these past years in our efforts to be “closer” with the flock when we simplified everything including our Masses that have become like variety shows with all the clapping and even dancing. Homilies have become stand-up comedies or rehash of news analyses or review of movies and mini-series. Focus has shifted on the pastor, forgetting Jesus Christ especially in the use of modern means of communications.

As a result, people were confused who is Jesus Christ because as we have removed the sense of sacred and holy in our celebrations and practices, came followed our lack of credibility as witnesses of the Lord with all kinds of clerical abuses that continue to plague us especially after Vatican II. Everything had become ordinary and worldly, or, of the world. All flesh and blood without the Father.

The first reading reminds us that God is the invisible hand always working for our own good, appointing credible and good people to lead us closer to him despite some despots and evil men and women who have plunged the world into chaos and darkness. Until now we can attest how in life we have seen and experienced more good people than bad ones.

Photo by author, Mirador Jesuit Villa, Baguio City, 24 August 2023.

Tomorrow, August 28, we celebrate the feast of the great St. Augustine who wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (Confessiones). There comes a time in our lives when after we have had everything, after all our searching and discoveries, after all our successes and failures in life, there is always that moment when we simply can’t get enough without God. There is always that emptiness within that only God can fill. The more we are rooted in this world, the more we realize we are not of the world too. That there are far more greater and nobler things in life we have to aspire for and become even while in this limited world marred by evil and sin.

The most truthful truths in life are learned while being on the ground, in the world where we are directed to level up in our views and existence; that is when we learn to detach ourselves from worldly things and start following Jesus, witnessing in his being the Christ, especially on the Cross. This we practice every Sunday by celebrating the Mass with our fellow disciples and cojourneyers in Christ to heaven. Amen.

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