24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Gospel today presents a rather timely subject given the current turbulences in the Muslim world. Today we are witnessing horrors in the Middle East and Africa as Christians and others – including Muslims who resist the terrorists- are being decimated by militant Muslims who claim to be reestablishing the Muslim Caliphate that dominated that part of the world for centuries. These horrors are what Christians were threatened with for many hundreds of years as Muslim armies conquered the Christian lands in the Middle East, Africa, and Spain; right up to the gates of Vienna, where at last they were stopped by heroic Christian armies on Sept 12, 1683. It was the end of their conquests until this century.
The public beheadings, massacres and the raping and enslavement of non-Muslim women which is taking place to today in Africa and the Middle East is not new in human history. This was what happened to Christians conquered by the Muslim invaders all around the Mediterranean countries in Africa and in the Christian countries of the Middles East over the course of a thousand years. It was such a massacre in a town near Vienna that inspired Jan Sobieski to rush to the defense of that city and stop the Muslim armies and their slaughter of Christians.
More recently, it was a simple mentioning of these kind of horrors in a quote from a 14th Century Byzantine emperor by Pope Benedict back in 2006 that raised an outcry in the Muslim world. How dare the Pope even quote this historical witness of such horrors and forced conversions, as if this were not a fact solidly verified by all historians, except some radical rewriters of history in Muslim countries. Now we witness these new Muslim warriors doing these very same things the Emperor had spoken about 600 years ago, and western nations still don’t understand the significance of what’s really going on.
But what has any of this to do with today’s Gospel? Well, first of all, in this passage from Mark, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, and we know that in Matthew’s account that confession is expanded where Peter adds, “the Son of the living God.” The Church has always understood this passage not only as Christ’s personal institution of Peter as the Rock, the one who will confirm and guarantee the faith of the Church in Christ, but also as the declaration through Peter of the Church’s foundational belief that Jesus is the Son of the living God. What this means is further professed in the Gospel of John, where the prologue declares that Jesus is the Eternal Word, God the Son, the creator of the world, and that the Word has become flesh in the womb of Mary. Thus Jesus is the true God.
This is the bedrock teaching of the Christian faith – that Jesus is truly God and yet God is only one God. This non-negotiable belief that Jesus is truly God made flesh has always been a scandal to the other great monotheistic religions. It was and is nonsense for the religion of Israel, which Christianity recognizes as divinely established as the preparation for the Messiah. And much later, five centuries after Christ, it was declared heresy in the books of the new religion of Arabia and the Middle East founded by Mohammed. Both Islam and Israel have asserted that the divinity of Christ is simply a myth, created either by Jesus Himself (the Jews) or by the Christian Church and supposedly never claimed by Jesus himself (The Muslims). The Koran, while honoring Jesus as the holiest of men and a prophet, absolutely denies his divinity and boldly asserts that a proper reading of the Christian Bible proves that it was the leaders of the Church who distorted its own Bible.
It is for this supposed blasphemy of the Church, that Christians in Moslem lands are barely tolerated and are forbidden to publicly advocate their beliefs lest they corrupt or convert Moslems to believe in this Christian blasphemy and polytheism. Thus the Church has no true religious freedom in any Moslem dominated land, and in almost all of these lands, it is extremely dangerous to publicly profess the faith in Jesus’ divine sonship.
Secondly, the passage recounts how Jesus severely reprimanded Peter when Peter rejected the idea that Jesus and his teaching would be violently rejected and would lead to his persecution, passion and death. Jesus was put to death because he claimed to be God. The High Priest confirms this in Matthew: “He has blasphemed” and the Jewish leaders do likewise in John: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” Jesus would die because he claimed to be the Son of God, equal to the Father. Jesus warned Peter and the others, that they too must be ready to be persecuted and die for the Gospel, found in both Scripture and Tradition, because it proclaims faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
And in fact Christians have always been persecuted for their belief in this foundational doctrine of their Church. In the early years, they were persecuted by their fellow Jews who considered them as blasphemers, as Acts records, including St. Stephen and St. Paul. In later times they were persecuted by the Roman Empire which had its own religions and gods, including the Emperor, who was to be worshipped as divine by all citizens. In the 7th Century there arose the Muslim religions and Christians suffered martyrdom and persecution under the Muslim armies that subjugated lands all around the Mediterranean basin that had been Christian for centuries, and then they invaded Europe through Spain and the Balkans.
Today, extreme militant forms of Islam, such as ISIS and Al–Qaeda, are on the rise once again, and this new militant Islam represents a mortal threat not only to Christians everywhere, but also to the civilizations that grew out of Christianity, even if they are no longer truly a Christian civilization. Today Christians are suffering martyrdom and horrible acts of barbarity in places where these militant forms of Islam prevail, and they suffer all this precisely for confessing that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the Son of God. They are truly martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else.
Now these militant Muslims have their eyes set on conquering Europe, the western world, including the United States, and then the whole world. One can scoff at this, but this has always been the goal of Islam, whether it is to be achieved by force, the goal of militant Muslims, or by simple invasion as today in Europe. Hilaire Belloc, the English writer made this point almost a century ago when Islamic countries seemed to be in retreat after the First World War. He predicted that his grandchildren would see the resurrection of a truly militant Islam bent on conquering the world, starting with Europe. Unfortunately the leadership of the European countries today, both civil and religious, do not appear to have the insight of Belloc, and cannot really see where this present chaotic situation is heading.
Now, we might rightly feel less immediately threatened by all this. We are not likely any time soon to be put up against a wall and given the option of death or denial of Christ. But that does not mean our faith is not under assault in America today. There are many ways one can effectively deny Jesus is God, even if less dramatic ways. For instance, a Christian Judge who asserts that marriages of homosexuals are true marriages implicitly denies the author of marriage, and that author is precisely the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Marriage is not only his creation, but it is what is because, ultimately, marriage signifies the marriage of the Word of God with humanity in the person of Jesus. How, then, will such a judge, or any Christian who agrees with his decision, stand before Christ and defend his perverse decision that distorts the true nature of marriage, and thus denies implicitly that Jesus is the Son of God.
Likewise, Christian politicians and judges who deny the right to life to the unborn child also deny the author of that life, who again is Christ Himself. These leaders certainly have the greater guilt since they took this right away in the first place, but Christians who agree with their denial of the right to life of the unborn and defend their obscene decision are also guilty. They too deny the author of life by their approval.
The politicians and judges and others who defend themselves by saying they only support the right to kill the unborn but are not responsible for their actual deaths is ludicrous. It reminds one of Adolph Eichmann’s defense at his trial for crimes against humanity, when he argued that he only scheduled the trains carrying the victims to their death chambers, but he was not responsible for their actual deaths! Many Christian politicians say they only vote for the right to kill, and vote to supply the means to kill to organizations like Planned Parenthood, but they can’t be held responsible for the actual millions of deaths! Any Christians who agree with all this, also implicitly deny Christ is God, the author of life, the Son of the living God as Peter confesses.
By their fruit, you shall know them, says the Lord, and the fruit of these Christians supporting abortion has been the death of 55 million innocent children. By their actions, by their political support, then, they clearly deny Christ by denying the right to life to the least of Christy’s brethren. Recall what Christ said, that whatever you do or don’t do for the least of my brethren, you do or don’t do it for me! How can anyone take those words seriously and think they have not denied Christ if they support abortion rights and support the degradation of marriage as a holy institution?
But then, one might ask, don’t we all deny Christ when we sin in any way? To some degree, yes, but not always to the point of full denial of His person. Peter fully denied the person of Christ when he was confronted by the Jews. But others only implicitly deny Christ in their sins, by breaking his commandment. The sinner who knows he is sinning, at the time he sins, actually implicitly confesses Christ by recognizing the law of Christ as valid and binding on conscience. He sins not from denial of the law, that is, of Christ who is the law, but from weakness. The person who denies or perverts the law does something far more evil; he denies the author of the law precisely because Christ is the law itself personally, and He is author of the law for man. He gave the commandments.
Peter, then, had to repent in order to no longer be in denial of the person of Christ, and he did so. Christian judges, legislators and executives who have perverted the law or denied the law of God need to repent to no longer be in denial of the person of Christ. There is no other way for any of them, or us. I may not directly deny Christ if I sin from weakness, but I do deny him if I refuse to repent and seek forgiveness. That was the difference between Peter and Judas. So, it’s not only persecutors who threaten our faith, but we threaten it ourselves if we fail or refuse to repent and confess in that negative way that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of God, my Creator and my redeemer. There is a huge difference, then, between the repentant sinner and the sinner who refuse to repent. One ultimately denies Christ, while the other in tears reaffirms His divinity and power to forgive. By the Grace of God, we must always be among the latter who affirm with Peter, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
It is not only the militant Muslims that threaten the faith of Christians by their acts of terror. We can surrender that faith quite easily by our own betrayals of the Son of God, by our implicit denials that Christ is our Lord, our moral law, our God who is present in the least of His brothers whose lives are unjustly taken by others. It is not the threat from militant Muslims that has caused the west to lose its faith today, but the choices to deny Him by words and actions, by denying that His law is absolute, that our life comes from Him and is sacred, that marriage was instituted by Him and for Him, and has its nature from Him. To deny these things is to deny Him, and faith cannot survive such a denial.