CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The purpose of this Sunday's liturgy is to get us to contemplate the person of Jesus Christ so that we can know him more deeply. Knowledge leads to love, and love to imitation. Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, must be the center, the criteria and the model for our daily lives. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Had Jesus of Nazareth been a Roman or a Greek, certainly his contemporaries would have left behind statues in his honor. However, because the Jews had a strict understanding of idolatry, their interpretation of the Mosaic Law did not allow them to make any images whatsoever of any human person. It would have been interesting if we had been left something that would illustrate the physical attributes of the Lord.
Throughout the centuries, there has been much discussion on the subject. The Shroud of Turin and Veronica's veil tell us a lot about his Middle Eastern features; however, our faith is best served by depending on the one authenticated source, the Gospels.
The accounts written by the Evangelists depict Our Lord's great capacity for physical activity. The long hours spent at hard work in the carpenter shop had prepared him well for the grueling task of his public ministry.
He walked many miles under the blazing Middle Eastern sun in order to preach the Kingdom of God. He slept many nights under the stars, and he spent much of that time in the bliss of silent prayer. He found little time to eat because of the multitudes seeking his healing touch, and yet when he did find time to rest, he slept so profoundly that not even a terrible storm could awaken him.
His body was strong and so was his soul. During the hours of tribulation in Gethsemane, he persevered in profound prayer while the apostles slept. When Joseph of Arimathea requested his body for burial, Pilate was surprised to discover that Jesus had died so quickly. Pilate knew that he had encountered a strong Galilean.
Jesus did not display his divinity in the manner of the mythical figures of Greek and Roman literature. He did not fly from place to place as though he were some sort of superman. Amazingly, in him the supernatural and the natural were interwoven. His divinity seemed so simple and normal.
No mysterious beams of light, flashes of lightning, or peals of thunder occurred as he performed his miracles. Instead, it was enough for him to touch, or be touched.
Only once did he show the magnificence of his divinity before a select group of apostles. Even then, during the Transfiguration, the experience was brief, simple, and discreet.
Aside from his physical attributes, Jesus knew exactly what he wanted. He was one with his mission. Everything that he did proceeded from his passionate desire to fulfill the will of the Father.
Unlike the complicated discourse of many philosophers and religious leaders, Our Lord's teaching is simple and easy enough for everyone to understand. However, the message is so clear and precise that his words are irresistible to all those who listen.
Who is this man that has divided history into two parts? Who is this man that has divided nations? Who is this man for whom many of his followers have given their lives rather than deny him? In this Sunday's gospel narrative Peter tells us who he is: "You are the Christ" (Mark 8: 29).
Tacitus (54-119 A.D.), Suetonius (75-160 A.D.) and Pliny the Younger (61-115 A.D.) of the ancient Roman Empire all give written historical testimony about the existence of Jesus. Jewish thinkers Philo (died after 40 A.D.) and more importantly Flavius Josephus (born 37 A.D.) also gives written historical testimony about Jesus and his work.
There is no historical doubt about the actual existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
But, Jesus asks the apostles "Who do people say that I am?" (Mark 8: 27).
When we consider all that Jesus said and did, we are faced with the dilemma that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his book Mere Christianity: either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or he is who he says that he is: the one true God.
Keep in mind that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled 1,093 prophecies of the Old Testament.
What do we need to do in order to truly know Christ Jesus?
Above all, we must be open. Far too many people attempt to live Christianity based upon their own terms. They do not come to the Lord with open minds and hearts. Far too many remove pages from the Scriptures and reduce Christianity to their own comfort level.
When we are completely open, the Holy Spirit floods our souls with his loving and peaceful presence. He cannot enter locked doors and windows that he cannot open. God respects our freedom. Only the open can believe and see.
Knowledge automatically brings us to love. We only love that which we know. Our love for the Lord must be authentic and real. Hypocrisy repulsed the Lord. "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" (James 2: 14).
Love brings about transformation. The goal of discipleship is to die to self so that the Lord may live within us. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8: 34).
The narrow road of the Gospel is difficult to live. Nevertheless, it is the only road that leads to eternal life in heaven.
In this Sunday's gospel narrative we discover the drastic invitation of Jesus. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8: 34). The cross, our personal cross or crosses which cannot be transferred to anyone else is an essential aspect to our walk with the Lord Jesus.
Jesus and the two thieves were not the only people ever crucified by the Roman Empire. Crucifixion was the form of capital punishment used for those people living under Roman jurisdiction who were not actually Roman citizens. Beheading was the punishment for Roman citizens, crucifixion for non-Roman citizens.
Just think how horrible crucifixion must have been if the Romans spared their own citizens such a terrible death. So painful was death by crucifixion that the Romans eventually did away with it as a form of capital punishment.
Too many of our contemporaries seek an easy life without suffering, without sacrifice, without renunciation, without mortification. Many people would like to stand under the cross of Jesus and cry out as did the jeering crowd on the first Good Friday, "Come down from the cross."
However, there is only one Jesus, and he is the crucified Jesus who rose from the dead. Christianity without the cross is not Christianity; only through the cross of Jesus have we gained salvation.
So, when we suffer, we should not consider our suffering a burden; rather we must look upon the cross we bear as an immense gift from God.
Mother Theresa once said: "Suffering is a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss us and that he can show that he is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in his passion".
Undoubtedly there are many forms of suffering that are quite mysterious. Moreover, the need to carry our cross as an essential dimension of Christianity does not take away the need and the duty to seek cures for illnesses and to make this life a better life for everyone. Although human progress continues to make this earth a better place for everyone, suffering, in one form or another, will always be a part of our existence. The meaning of suffering does make sense when we contemplate Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
When we ask the question why, we need to look upon the crucifix. It is only there that we will find the meaning of suffering and the exact reason why we must carry our own cross.
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8: 34-35).
Father James Farfaglia, is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org.
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