XXIV Sunday of Ordinary Time
- Isaiah 50:5-9 – The servant is not ashamed, even though smeared with spittle; the servant teaches others by first being obedient to the Lord.
- James 2:14-18 – Faith that does nothing in practice is thoroughly lifeless.
- Mark 8:27-35 – After Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus teaches the disciples the necessity to deny their very selves, take up the cross and follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Thoughts for your consideration: by John Gonzalez
This week Isaiah and Mark will invite us to understand the image of Jesus as the suffering servant of God. In both of these readings we are told about an apparent contradiction. Isaiah discussed the advent of one who serves God and who is empowered and gifted by God. Jesus, in discussion with his disciples, places himself and his deeds in the context of being the Messiah (the anointed one). This of course would tend to signify a person of great significance and power, certainly we get a sense that Jesus’ disciples think so and why not, how else shall we conceptualize the anointed one of God. And yet in both these reading Isaiah and Mark tell us that this significant figure will have to undergo great suffering, horrible treatment and an inglorious death. This is nothing less than a social contradiction.
After Peter identifies Jesus’ messianic identity he and the other disciples are shocked to learn about the horrific fate that awaits Jesus. This is all too much for Peter who goes on to rebuke Jesus and who in turn gets rebuked by Jesus for “setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” This reminds us of last week’s readings where we were invited to be healed by Christ from the limitations of our own social conditioning. Peter and the disciples expect the Messiah to vindicate and save Israel from its own corruption as well as its external oppression. They logically should expect that Jesus will have a glorious role to play as the long awaited Messiah. But here they are instructed to set their minds on divine things. This perspective is to understand the role of the Messiah as a socially tragic figure whose vindication is the reward of eternal life in communion with God the Father. This is the Kingdom that will await the disciples of Jesus, but for them to earn this they too must “take up their cross and follow me.”
We should take some time to marvel at what Peter and the disciples are witnessing here. As baptized members of this apostolic community we also should place ourselves in their footsteps as we consider these divine things. We should take some time to imagine that Jesus is also correcting us in considering our own social obligations as we consider what it means to take up our own cross and follow Him. As we consider the social dilemma that Peter and the apostles faced consider also their own state of shock and anxiety after the passion and death of Jesus. We are told that they were afraid and that they hid themselves in locked rooms. This has to be considered normal. They followed a great teacher and healer who they understood was the Son of God and this man was legitimately crucified by the social structures of the day. What we should marvel at is the historical fact that these disciples witnessed something amazing and supernatural. They witnessed something that gave them the strength and motivation to publically live an alternative lifestyle. The historical proof of the resurrection of Christ is not necessarily based in Sacred Scripture. Instead it is based on the amazing historical fact that a religious movement was born and grew from the most socially unlikely foundation: A healing teacher who was convicted and crucified as a criminal. The only way we can truly explain this is by trying to comprehend what these early disciples witnessed and experienced after the death of Jesus.
This Kingdom of God may be of divine origin, but the purpose of Jesus was to bring the Kingdom of God here to Earth. This now becomes part of our own mandate in following Christ. In the second reading James reminds us that we are not allowed to spiritualize this message or to preach an other-wordly message. Jesus’ sacrifice came from the fact that he would not compromise the Kingdom of God to any socio-political system; he lived it obediently no matter what the cost. We are told to live out this Kingdom by being doers of justice, promoters of peace, and responsible stewards of God’s creation. While Matthew 25 offers a wonder image of social responsibility through the image of the last judgment this no-nonsense passage from James captures the message very succinctly and worthy of repetition here:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
I will not say more with regards to this passage, least I spiritualize the obvious.