Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The R Word
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 1, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
One of the things that used to puzzle me in seminary Scripture class was the proclivity some scholars had in delight in the count of words. In their works they proudly announce how many times this or that word is used in Sacred Scripture. Interesting? I guess it depends on how desperate the reader is to have quaint bits of knowledge for display at cocktail parties.
Try this one: How many times is the word “remonstration” used in the Gospels? Yes, it’s spelled correctly: with an R. What – you don’t know? The answer is: only one time.
“Remonstration,” of course, is an English word. It is used to translate a sense of what St. Peter does to Jesus in that famous scene at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus searches for his identity: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter somewhat glibly but enthusiastically confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed of the Lord. Jesus appreciates the affirmation, and tries to invite Peter into his own deepening walk of faith. But Peter has a better idea. He doesn’t mind the notion of discipleship, but he thinks Jesus has it all wrong when it comes to living it.
Peter “remonstrates,” says the Gospel story. According to Webster, that means he “pleads in protest, with a sense of scolding or fault-finding.”
Peter’s attitude is like the man I ran across at the shopping mall recently. A professional saleswoman was giving a demonstration (that’s with a “D”) of her product, a modern cooking gadget. She obviously knew her product well. As she deftly explained her wares, a man joined the small audience. His interest in the product became obvious – but so did his remonstration (that’s with an “R”). He actually had the gall to try showing the woman and the shoppers a better way to use the machine. He must have been a relative of St. Peter! And he didn’t know his head from a spatula when it came to kitchen implements.
So much for playing with words. It’s the attitude expressed in remonstration that must be our concern.
Most of us followers of Jesus have little difficulty in accepting the title “Christian.” We may rather readily confess our allegiance to anyone who asks our religious affiliation. More steeped in denominational categories, we even may happily announce that we are Catholics. Wonderful! (It seems to be more difficult nowadays to admit such things, you know.) But what does the title mean for us? More than carrying a name, are we willing to walk in the way of Jesus? Are we willing to die, that we might rise? Are we willing to embrace the crucifixion that comes with the purifying work of grace? Are we willing to empty our wills and unconditionally accept the saving love of God?
Like Peter the Apostle, it is easy to confess with our lips that we are followers of the Lord. To enter into a relationship of salvation is quite another. This relationship is the central challenge to Peter; it is the central challenge to followers of Christ ever since. Who do we say that Jesus is for us – and to what extent are we willing to let him be the kind of Messiah he needs to be for us? Heavy questions, these. Far heavier than questions about the frequency of words in the Scripture texts.
We each have to grapple with discipleship at the level of commitment and free choice. Like Peter, we probably have a better way to be a disciple – and usually an easier way – than the path of selfless conversion into which Jesus invites his true followers. We can do our own remonstration – our own protest and fault-finding. While still bearing the title “Christian,” we can compromise our lives with a worldly, self-serving set of values; we can reject challenges to share our time, talent, and treasure with the less fortunate; we can resist the notion that we can be important without being Number One.
The examples of remonstration in our walk of discipleship can get rather extensive. It is never too late to take stock of our walk. We can always benefit from confronting our own personal list of remonstrations with the humility that Peter (eventually) learned and renew our walk with the Lord. He shows us the way. It is not life-giving to use the R word – that is, to remonstrate.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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