Reading the Signs of the Times
About 30 years ago Pope John XXIII popularized the expression "reading the signs of the times" as a way of doing theology. According to this method, before saying anything about God one should first listen to the situation, to what is going on in the world around us, to hear what it may be telling us about the creator. The assumption here is that God is active in the world and in people's relationships and by reflecting on these we can learn much about God. This was in contrast to the "a priori" method which assumed that "somebody up there" had all of the answers already worked out and it was up to the faithful to just implement them.
the scene in today's Gospel, the encounter with Peter at Caesarea Philippi,
Jesus gives a lesson in "signs of the times" theologizing.
He is interested in what is going on around him and in what people are
thinking. This is the first source of knowledge about reality. He asks
them, "who do people say that I am?" The disciples venture
some guesses and then Jesus moves into the second place where knowledge
of reality - and of God - is found. He asks them, "and you, who
do you say that I am?" What does your inner voice, the Spirit within
you say? This was really a sort of mid-term exam for the disciples.
Simon Peter had a flash of genius and gave the top scoring answer. "You
are the Messiah, the son of the living God." According to Matthew's
Gospel Jesus then answered, "blessed are you Simon Barjona for
it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you but my Father
in Heaven." In this Jesus pointed to a third source of Divine Knowledge
- the Father in heaven. Because of his bright answer Peter was given
instant promotion. "And now I say to you: you are Peter (or Rock)
and on this rock I will build my church and never will the powers of
the nether-world overcome it."
this passage we see three sources of knowledge about God. Firstly, we
have the world around us. So knowledge of God can be found in the sciences
like history, sociology, demography, anthropology. Secondly, there is
the world inside us. Knowledge is to be found through exploring that
world and knowing oneself better. The world of psychology is a gateway
to knowledge of our inner being and of the workings of the Spirit in
that sacred temple. Finally, there is revelation, there are truths that
are given to us by God which could not be discovered or uncovered by
introspection or observation.
places where we can find God also indicate the places where we should
respond to him. We should and do respond to God especially in worship.
In our listening, especially through the stories of scripture, and in
our communal efforts to make life better for others we are listening
to and responding to the God who is incarnate in this world. When we
are still in meditation we are present to the God who dwells in the
cave of our hearts.
is a great exhilaration in coming to a deeper awareness of the richness
and multiplicity of God's ways of being amongst us. However, such awareness
does not give us a reason to sit back and rejoice and say "we've
made it." The discipleship of Jesus is an unending journey. Within
minutes of Peter's promotion, Jesus begins to talk about going up to
Jerusalem to suffer. At this Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to remonstrate
with him. To which Jesus said "Get behind me, Satan! because the
way you think is not God's way but man's." While Peter had been
promoted he had, as yet, missed the core of the message of Jesus.
No matter how much insight we may have, no matter how much affirmation we may be getting, we must never forget our littleness and our sinfulness. The mystery of God is infinite and multi-faceted. Let us be grateful for the knowledge that comes to us from the world around us, from the Spirit within us and from above. But much more let us be humble before our infinite ignorance.
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