On the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are reminded of how our baptismal commitment calls us to execute constantly Christ’s Ephphatha (“be opened”) command. It is, first of all, the deliberate and willful opening of our mind and heart to receive God’s Word, light, guidance and boundless blessings and, then it becomes openness to the implementation of His will by a generous widening of our circle of loving concern to include as many people as possible.
We are reminded of our anointing at Baptism (repeated at Confirmation) with the same anointing with which Jesus was anointed. If we were to think about this anointing from strictly a worldly point of view, we would soon regret giving it so little thought.
The Prophet Isaiah (50:5-9) is quite clear as to the preset path to future glory passing through rejection, brutal trials, excruciating physical and emotional pain that God’s anointed have to experience while remaining steadfast in their firm confidence in God. It should be enlightening and encouraging to keep in mind that, on that arduous path, Jesus is leading and that we are guaranteed success if we manage, through God’s grace, to walk closely behind him.
Our decision to follow Jesus closely will help us understand that if we decide to be attentive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, as it happened to Jesus, we, too, will receive gradual, incremental revelations and most valuable directions on how to proceed towards the preset and promised glorious destination.
Jesus did not have to face the unspeakable horrors of the cross right away. For thirty years, in the quiet obscurity of Nazareth, he grew in knowledge, wisdom and understanding. In the Gospel of Luke we read, The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. At his anointing at the Jordan River, the pain was mostly due to separation from his family as he moved away from the well-known surroundings of his village.
However, doubts, perplexities and bewilderments clouded his mind and heart as a progressively more ominous storm would soon gather.
He began to wonder why, after the anointing of the Holy Spirit to bring the glad tidings to the poor, to cure the sick, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to announce a year acceptable to the Lord, along with rejoicing and favorable acceptance, he incurred also disapproval, rejection, criticism and open hostility. Gradually, Jesus understood that the anointing which he had received at Baptism included the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s obedient, suffering Servant. Hence, he kept himself in a total listening mode about the mission that the Father had assigned to him: The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. (Isaiah 50:4-5)
As the dark aspects of the anointing became clearer and, thus, seemingly setting him on the frightening course towards a horrific death, one day, in the cluster of villages around Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the apostles what image he was projecting. On behalf of the other eleven who had witnessed his words and deeds, and enlightened from above, Peter gave the solemn confirmation that Jesus was projecting clearly the image of God’s Anointed (the Christ).
I believe that Jesus must have taken in Peter’s statement with a mixture of conflicting feelings. There must have been contentment that his obedience to the Father was clearly noticeable. But that pleasant feeling must have been mixed both with fright at what was looming in the not-so-distant future and also with loving concern about the obvious, all-encompassing fragility of his followers. Hence he warned them not to tell anyone about him. Furthermore, at that same time, by trying to dissuade Jesus from embracing yet the darkest side of his anointing, Peter showed Jesus how imperfect sincere human love is and how easily one’s mind can be closed to God’s plan.
Fast forward 2000 years.
The risen Lord is here, as our faith assures us. Looking at our noticeable, all-encompassing feebleness, will he find us ready to face the dark aspect of our baptismal anointing? Substantially, as referred to above, it is Christ’s same anointing for a mission to bring glad tidings to the poor, to care for the sick, to help free those held captive to all forms of slavery, and to announce with our life the infinitude of the Father’s mercy.
Well, an honest appraisal of those beliefs that should sustain us on a daily basis would indicate that the inevitable dark side of our baptismal anointing is, in reality, blurring our vision of what lies ahead and accentuating, rather than sustaining, our feebleness. Along with Peter and the rest of those who were physically the closest ones to Jesus in his humanness, we “freeze” our attention on this prediction: The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…
However, if today we rediscover that the core of each Eucharistic Celebration is a re-presenting to and a re-living for ourselves the death and resurrection of the Christ, we should be able to shift our attention on the and rise after three days part.
The resurrection of Christ makes all of us who dare to follow him carrying our cross equipped with an incredibly effective weapon designed to sustain our hope and make it unshakable. By divine decree, this is the most astonishing and reassuring aspect of our Faith, which is meant to enable us to live through the worst trials of life while carrying out our assigned mission of loving service.
So, it is time that we show “existential gratitude” to our risen Lord who, through our baptismal anointing has made us partakers of his sufferings but also of his victory. We should cease being foolishly envious of the rich and of the glamorous semi-deities in the Pantheon of the entertainment world (cinema, TV, sports, music, etc.) Generally speaking, they should be pitied for their poor vision of reality and their self-absorption—not envied!
Sufferings and trials are the inevitable lot of each and every human being on the face of the earth. What differentiates us from them must be the mission we carry out and what we know awaits us past the cross. The fleeting moments of glory and glamour of the semi-deities are followed by thick, impenetrable darkness of divorces, litigations, addictions, emotional brokenness, violence, and even suicides.
Hopefully, today’s glad tidings, proclaimed to us by God’s Anointed, will be such that they will make us embrace wholeheartedly and enthusiastically the widening of our circle of caring and concern for many people as it is found in the Ephphatha (“be opened”) command. And, confidently, today’s glad tidings will help us to accept all aspects of our own anointing and to soar above our temporary miseries, while keeping fully alive our hope in a share in the endless glory awaiting us.