THIS IS AN EVIL GENERATION. IT SEEKS A SIGN, BUT NO SIGN WILL BE GIVEN IT, SAVE THE SIGN OF JONAH THE PROPHET . Jesus could be very blunt and even harsh when he encountered refusal of belief in his message and his person, as today's Gospel makes abundantly clear. Here he addresses people who did not accept his words with faith. He showed the same severe attitude even to his close followers when they attempted to alter his teaching concerning the Father's plan of salvation. When, for example, Peter attempted to turn Jesus aside from the suffering of the cross, Jesus immediately rebuffed him in the strongest language: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me for you do not think according to God but according to men (Mt. 16:23)."
The Lord knew himself as one sent from the Father; his action and the word he spoke were given him by God the Father. Consequently, to reject him is to reject his Father. He could not abide deliberate infringement of the honor due to the Father. When his Father's honor was at stake, he did not mince words or passively withdraw; he spoke out forcibly, and became even sharply aggressive at those times when he encountered hypocrisy and deliberate violation of God's law. "Woe to you, you scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites... (Mt 23: 23)" With Herod he expressed his disdain and disapproval even more pointedly, by his total refusal to say a single word to him. He lived for the glory of God whom he knew intimately as his loving, holy and merciful Father, and who must be acknowledged and adored in spirit and in truth.
Any image of Jesus, then, that does not include this outspoken and aggressive attitude in the face of unbelief and malice along with his merciful and meek manner with those who truly seek the ways of God, is defective, even misleading. Nothing is more foreign to our Lord's character than sentimental overlooking of weaknesses; he requires a confrontation with the truth of one's sinfulness and of God's holiness on the part of all who would draw near to him. When he discovers we are so disposed and contrite, no matter how egregious our faults and sins, he comes to meet us in mercy and with loving kindness.
True repentance is the first step to seeking God in spirit and in truth and, as Jesus taught the Samaritan woman, it is such that God seeks. In today's first reading, St. Paul speaks of the real children of Abraham as being characterized by freedom of spirit. "Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a serving maid but of the free woman. Stand firm in the freedom with which Christ has made us free (Galatians 4: 31, 5: 1)". This freedom is acquired by faith in Jesus, obedience to his words and honesty with our self in judging our guilt and our responsibility before God for our behavior.
All of us who put our faith in the Lord have the task of forming our own concept of who he is and what he is like based on what he has revealed about himself to all believers. Surely he has a specific and distinctive meaning for each of us in our unique personality and history, yet this significance derives in the first place from his person with the totality of his characteristics. We shall never fully grasp, in all its comprehensiveness, his person. Our task, however, is, within the limits of our capacity enhanced by grace, to approximate ever more closely, the true knowledge of his person. Our relation to him is the most important of our life, in that he is the way to the Father as well as being in himself, along with the Father in the Spirit, the truth and eternal life, as he announced very explicitly in his last discourse as recorded by St. John.
Our Lord gives himself to us in a special manner at this Eucharist, placing himself, as it were, at our disposition, ready to respond to our desire to be united with him ever more truly and fully. May our faith in him and our longing for him ever be strong and courageous so that we might know him in the completeness of his person, that is, in his loving mercy but also in his demanding dedication to the Father's will in all truth. Then shall we be better placed to follow him faithfully, in his sufferings and struggles, in death and in life, until we meet him at the end in the fullness of his glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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