Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:20
This line in today’s Gospel comes immediately after Peter made his profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus, in turn, tells Peter that he is “rock” and on this rock He will build His Church. Jesus goes on to tell Peter that He will give him the “keys to the Kingdom.” Then He tells Peter and the other disciples to keep His identity a strict secret.
Why would Jesus say such a thing? What is His motivation? It seems that Jesus would want them to go forth and to tell everyone that He is the Messiah. But this is not what He says.
One reason for this “Messianic Secret” is that Jesus does not want word of who He is to spread in a casual way. Rather, He wants people to come to discover His true identity through the powerful gift of faith. He wants them to encounter Him, prayerfully be open to all He says, and then to receive the gift of faith from the Father in Heaven.
This approach to His true identity highlights the importance of coming to know Christ personally through faith. Eventually, after Jesus’ death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, the disciples are called to go forth and to preach openly about the identity of Jesus. But while Jesus was with them, His identity was communicated to people through their own personal encounter with Him.
Though we are all called to proclaim Christ openly and continually in our day and age, His true identity still can only be understood and believed through a personal encounter. When we hear Him proclaimed, we must be open to His divine presence, coming to us and speaking to us in the core of our being. He, and He alone, is able to “convince” us of who He is. He is the one and only Messiah, the Son of the Living God, as Saint Peter professed. We must come to this same realization through our personal encounter with Him in our hearts.
Reflect, today, upon the depth of your faith and knowledge of the Messiah. Do you believe in Him with all your might? Have you allowed Jesus to reveal His divine presence to you? Seek to discover the “secret” of His true identity by listening to the Father speak to you in your heart. It is only there that you will come to have faith in the Son of God.
Lord, I do believe that You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Help my lack of faith so that I may come to believe in You and love You with my whole being. Invite me, dear Lord, into the secret depths of Your heart, and allow me to rest there in faith with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
We Have Come to Believe
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69
As a result of what? As a result of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” The Eucharist was the deepest and most beautiful teaching Jesus had given, but for some it was more than they could handle. So many left Him. But this passage also reveals the beautiful faith of the Apostles, especially Peter.
First of all, Jesus does not back down in any way from His beautiful and very deep teaching on the Holy Eucharist. What He said He stands behind, namely, that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). He goes on to say, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).
From there, Jesus turns to His disciples and gives them the freedom to accept or reject what He just taught. This freedom He gives to them is essential to them entering into authentic faith. If Jesus would have pressured or manipulated the disciples, it would have been hard for them to freely choose to accept Him and all He taught.
The same is true with us. Jesus does not require us to follow Him. He will not force or manipulate us into believing. He will not pressure us. Rather, Jesus offers Himself and His teachings and invites us to believe.
Within this context, Peter makes a profound statement of faith. “Master, to whom shall we go?” In other words, Peter was saying, “Lord, even if the teaching is hard, and even if it is unpopular to follow you, and even if we must suffer, be rejected, be misunderstood…you are the best option.” Think about it. What other option even comes close to the option of accepting the full and deep teachings of Jesus? Is it better to only take part of what He says? Doing that is a form of rejection of Him.
Peter gives us the witness of one who has come to believe that there is only one good option in life. That option is the choice to follow Jesus no matter what. Nothing in life is worth choosing over Christ. We should strive to discover this truth that He is the only one worth choosing.
Reflect, today, upon these words of Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Jesus is God, the Messiah and Savior. He has the words of everlasting life. He is the best “option” to choose. Say those words of Peter and, in saying them, make the choice to choose Him no matter how popular that choice is and no matter if others are making it. Going with the flow leads us down the wrong river. Making the right choice sets us on solid ground.
The Narrow Gate
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Luke 13:24
What does this line tell us? It reveals that we cannot enter Heaven by our own will or through our own effort. Furthermore, it tells us that though some will try to get to Heaven through their own effort, this approach will not work. Upon meeting our Lord, after death, they will be surprised that they are not a member of His Kingdom.
This clear and somewhat shocking statement from our Lord should have the effect of causing you to step back and look at your life so as to sincerely and humbly examine the path you are on. Jesus’ directness and clarity on this real experience that some will have should help to open your eyes so as to honestly examine if He is speaking about you.
It takes true humility to face the truth, at times, and to admit if we are trying to rely more upon ourselves than upon Christ. The “narrow gate” is that gate through which the humble enter. Pride and self-sufficiency lead us to attempt to make our own path to Heaven. But this path is never the correct one.
Entering the “narrow gate” also means that we listen to God. He, as the divine Shepherd, is always calling to us in a gentle way. Only when we are attentive to His voice will we know where He is leading us. Only then will we discover the way through the one and only narrow gate.
Reflect, today, upon that moment when you meet our Lord face to face. What will that encounter be like? Will it be one where He greets you with open arms saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your reward.” Or will it be one in which He says, “I do not know you.” Now is the time to face your life of faith with honesty, striving to rely only upon the strength of our divine Lord.
Lord, I do desire to enter the narrow gate. I choose to follow Your gentle voice, leading me to Heaven. Help me to remain humble in life, shedding all that leads me to rely upon myself. May I rely only upon You, dear Lord, and trust You in all things. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Public Rebuke by Jesus
Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Matthew 23:13
In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses the harsh rebuke “Woe to you…” seven times in a row in reference to the scribes and Pharisees. He also calls them “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “whitewashed tombs,” “serpents,” “brood of vipers,” and “murderers.” Jesus could not be any clearer about His wholehearted and harsh rebukes of these religious leaders.
Why is Jesus so harsh toward the scribes and Pharisees? Because they are doing one of the grave evils one can do. They are misleading people in the name of God. Nothing could be worse.
Unfortunately, the scribes and Pharisees may not see it this way. But that is precisely one of the main reasons Jesus is so strong in His public rebuke of these religious leaders. His strong rebuke is an act of mercy on His part in that the scribes and Pharisees need more than just a simple invitation to repentance. They need to have their twisted malice laid out before them clearly and definitively. And it needs to be laid out for them and also for others to see. This rebuke of Jesus is not spoken in irrational anger or hatred; rather, it is spoken in the hope that these truths will sink in and they will repent.
Reflect, today, upon two important lessons from these rebukes. First, ponder whether or not you struggle with the ugly sins of self-righteousness. Do you act religious, while at the same time fail to be truly merciful? Second, be aware that at times the most loving thing you can do for another is to rebuke them. Be careful with this and make sure that any rebuke offered is truly from the Lord. Do not hesitate to do so when, with a well formed conscience, you discern this to be from God. It may be the best way to win this form of sinner back to Christ.
Lord, when I fall into the awful sin of self-righteousness and pride, please humble me and rebuke me at the core of my being. Help me to always respond to these holy rebukes by truly repenting of my sins. Help me, also, to charitably speak the truth to those who need to hear it for their own good. Give me wisdom, courage and mercy in life so that I may be used to help all sinners return to You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Cleanse the Inside First
Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26
Though these very direct words of Jesus may have the appearance of being harsh, they are truly words of mercy. They are words of mercy because Jesus is going to great lengths to help the Pharisees understand that they need to repent and cleanse their hearts. Though the initial message “Woe to you” may jump out at us, the real message we should hear is “cleanse first the inside.”
What this passage reveals is that it’s possible to be in one of two conditions. First, it’s possible that one’s interior is filled with “plunder and self-indulgence” while at the same time the exterior gives the appearance of being clean and holy. This was the problem of the Pharisees. They were very concerned with how they looked on the outside but gave little care to the interior. This is a problem.
Second, Jesus’ words reveal that the ideal is to start with an interior cleansing. Once that happens, the effect will be that the exterior is also cleansed and radiant. Think about the person in this second condition, the one who is first cleansed interiorly. This person is an inspiration and a beautiful soul. And what is beautiful is that when one’s heart is authentically cleansed and purified, this interior beauty cannot be contained inside. It must shine forth and others will notice.
Reflect, today, upon how easily the beauty of your interior life shines forth. Do others see this? Does your heart shine forth? Are you radiant? If not, perhaps you, too, need to hear these words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. You may also need to be chastised out of love and mercy so that you will be motivated to allow Jesus to enter in and act in a powerfully cleansing way.
Honesty with Yourself
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Matthew 23:27-28
Ouch! Once again we have Jesus speaking in an exceptionally direct way to the Pharisees. He does not hold back at all in His condemnation of them. They are described as both “whitewashed” and “tombs.” They are whitewashed in the sense that they do all they can to make it look, exteriorly, that they are holy. They are tombs in the sense that filthy sin and death live within them. It’s hard to imagine how Jesus could have been more direct and more condemning of them.
One thing this tells us is that Jesus is a man of the utmost honesty. He calls it as it is and does not mix His words. And He does not offer any false compliments or pretend all is fine when it’s not.
How about you? Are you able to act with complete honesty? No, it’s not our job to do what Jesus did and to condemn others, but we should learn from Jesus’s actions and apply them to ourselves! Are you ready and willing to look at your own life and call it as it is? Are you ready and willing to be honest with yourself and with God about the condition of your soul? The problem is that we often are not. We often just go about pretending all is fine and ignore the “dead men’s bones and every kind of filth” lurking within us. That’s not pretty to see and not easy to admit.
So, again, ho
w about you? Can you take an honest look at your own soul and name what you see? Hopefully you will see goodness and virtue and rejoice in that. But you can be certain you will also see sin. Hopefully not to the extent that the Pharisees had “every kind of filth.” But nonetheless, if you are honest you will see some dirt that needs to be cleaned.
Reflect, today, upon how willing you are to 1) honestly name the filth and sin in your life and, 2) sincerely strive to overcome it. Don’t wait until Jesus is pushed to the point of crying out “Woe to you!”
Lord, help me to daily take an honest look at my own life. Help me to see not only the good virtues You have formed within me, but also the filth that is there as a result of my sin. May I seek to be cleansed from that sin so that I can love You more fully. Jesus, I trust in You.
Jesus is Coming!
Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42
What if today is that day?! What if you knew that today was the day our Lord would return to Earth in all His splendor and glory to judge the living and the dead? Would you act differently? Most likely we all would. We’d probably contact as many people as we could and inform them of the imminent return of the Lord, go to confession and then spend the day in prayer.
But what would the ideal response be to such a question? If, by a special revelation from God, you were made aware of the fact that today was the day the Lord would return, what would the ideal response be? Some have suggested that the ideal response is that you go about your day as if it were any other day. Why? Because ideally we are all living every day as if it were our last and we are daily heeding the Scripture above. We strive, every day, to “stay awake” and be ready for our Lord’s return at any moment. If we are truly embracing this Scripture, then it matters not if His return is today, tomorrow, next year or many years from now.
But this call to “stay awake” refers to more than just the final and glorious coming of Christ. It also refers to every moment of every day that our Lord comes to us by grace. It refers to every prompting of His love and mercy in our hearts and souls. It refers to His continuous gentle whispers calling us closer to Himself.
Are you attentive to Him coming to you in these ways every day? Are you attentive to the infinite number of ways He is seeking to enter your life more fully? Though we do not know the day on which our Lord will come in His final victory, we do know that every day and every moment of every day is a moment of His coming by grace. Listen for Him, be attentive, be watchful and stay awake!
The Oil of Charity
Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’” Matthew 25:11b-12
What a frightening and sobering experience that would be. This passage comes from the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five of them were prepared to meet our Lord and the other five were not. When the Lord came, the five foolish virgins were off trying to get more oil for their lamps, and when they returned, the door to the feast was already locked. The above passage reveals what happened next.
Jesus tells this parable, in part, to wake us up. We must be ready for Him every day. And how do we make sure we are ready? We are ready when we have plenty of “oil” for our lamps. The oil especially represents charity in our lives. So, the simple question to ponder is this: “Do I have charity in my life?”
Charity is more than just simple human love. By “human love” we mean an emotion, feeling, attraction, etc. We can feel this way toward another person, toward some activity or toward many things in life. We can “love” to play sports, or watch movies, etc.
But charity is so much more. Charity means we love with the heart of Christ. It means that Jesus has placed in our hearts His own merciful heart and we love with His love. Charity is a gift from God that enables us to reach out to and care for others in ways that are far beyond our own abilities. Charity is divine action in our lives and it is necessary if we want to be welcomed to the feast of Heaven.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you can see the heart of Jesus alive in your own heart. Can you see Him acting in you, compelling you to reach out to others even when it’s hard? Do you say and do things that help people grow in holiness of life? Does God act in you and through you to make a difference in the world? If the answer is “Yes” to these questions, then charity is certainly alive in your life.
Sharing in the Master’s Joy
Saturday of the Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’” Matthew 25:23
This is a story about two things. First, it’s a story about the fidelity we are called to have in this life to the service of the will of God. Second, it’s a promise of Jesus’ fidelity back to us, both here on Earth and, ultimately, when we meet Him at the time of our death.
What a blessing it would be to hear Jesus say those words to us upon the completion of our lives here on Earth. “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come, share your master’s joy.” This begs the question, if you were to die today, what would our Lord say to you? If you are not immediately confident that in His mercy He would say these words above, then today is a good day to make some changes in your life.
A good spiritual practice is to live today in such a way that we are consciously preparing for that glorious meeting with Jesus. What “responsibilities” has He entrusted to you in this life and what are you doing with them? Are you seeking to place all your gifts at the service of the Gospel and the spreading of charity? Are you diligent in giving of yourself to God and His holy will? Hopefully there is no hesitation in your answer. If there is, this is a sign that God may want more of you here and now.
One of the biggest problems we can struggle with in this world is the temptation to seek worldly satisfaction here and now, at the expense of building up Heavenly treasure. But why? Why seek momentary and superficial satisfaction here and now and risk losing eternal joy?
Reflect, today, upon the ultimate goal that you should have in life. This is the goal of being fully prepared for that glorious encounter with our Lord as you pass from this life to the next. Heaven may seem a bit intangible right now, but when the time comes to meet Jesus face to face, it will not be intangible in the slightest way. Instead, you will immediately be made aware of every detail of your life here on Earth. Your fidelity, day in and day out, or the lack of fidelity, day in and day out, will become either the source of your eternal joy or thesource of eternal regret.
Lord, help me to keep my eyes on You and Your holy will. Free me from selfish and momentary goals in life so that I can seek to serve You only in the way that produces joy to Your heart. Help me to keep my eyes on Heaven and to daily prepare for that eternal meeting with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
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