The Gospel tells us that Jesus was teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and those who heard him made conclusions about Jesus. Some say he is the Prophet. Some say he is the Messiah. With regards to his being the Messiah, the people could not decide because their understanding of Jesus caused them to make the wrong conclusion about him. Their interpretation of Scripture that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem was correct. But their understanding of the Person of Jesus was wrong. They thought Jesus came from Galilee, therefore they disqualified him from being the Messiah. Their misunderstanding of the Person of Jesus comes from their cursory knowledge of him made them think he was from Galilee, when in fact, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Galilee.
This teaches us that faith is not only the right interpretation of Scripture or of what we are taught or what we do. Faith is based on the right understanding of the Person of Jesus. This is only possible when we spend time to encounter him, to listen to him, to see how he works, to reflect on what he does and is doing to our lives. Pope Benedict XVI tells us being a Christian is not about ethical choices or lofty ideals, but an encounter with a Person and Event, that leads to a new horizon and a decisive direction. Faith must transform us, our relationship with God and our understanding of God through faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Often, this experience of God is most intense in suffering, especially when suffering is unjust or does not make sense. We see this in the First Reading where the people wanted to destroy Jeremiah, to cut him off, or to use today’s language, to cancel him. But his experience of God teaches him that God is the God of Justice. Which is why Jeremiah is able to say to God, You who try the heart and the mind. Let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Jeremiah knows God’s justice will prevail because Jeremiah committed his cause to God. The Psalmist echoes what Jeremiah said: in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me. Encounters with God in our past make us confident in his power and justice.
In the Gospel, we see the experts of the Law reject Jesus while claiming to follow the Law. Many today claim to be Catholics yet reject the Person who established his Church. But we should not be surprised, because people do not understand what faith is. When we see faith as doing things, or knowing things, we will never have faith. Faith must be what Pope Benedict XVI says, an encounter with Jesus that transforms us. Taking the readings today, we can rephrase what Pope Benedict said: Being Christian is moving towards Jesus, trusting our cause to him in the midst of persecution, surrendering to him in the midst of our suffering, allowing him to help us and raise us up when we are overwhelmed and defeated.
Knowing the written Word of God is commendable. But this should lead to an encounter with the Eternal Word of God, that will lead us to move towards Jesus, who is our new horizon.
We can only believe what the Psalm today says: God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart when we know who God is. If we are overwhelmed by sin, and we have decided we have had enough of it, then we come towards Jesus in confession and encounter the power of God’s mercy, to heal and transform us. When we do this he deems us righteous and will save us.
Psalm 95 tells us If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. If today, we are persecuted, or are suffering, or are overwhelmed by our situation in life, or are tired of life, we tell Jesus to take them as we offer the gifts on the altar. We ask God to take them and reveal himself to us so we can truly encounter him in the Eucharist and in our lives, now and forever.