Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 IS 50:5-9A
Responsorial Psalm PS 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
- (9) I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
Reading 2 JAS 2:14-18
Alleluia GAL 6:14
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord
through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 8:27-35
Homily—September 15 & 16, 2018 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
According to many scholars, this is the turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus had been teaching in Galilee, now he turns toward Jerusalem and begins to focus on teaching his closest disciples about what it means for him to be the Christ, God’s anointed one.
Last Sunday, we considered the need to have our ears opened in order to hear Christ’s message. This Sunday, the scene opens with Jesus asking the disciples what they have heard about him. They respond with people’s opinions.
Those who thought he was John the Baptist would have recognized that they were both popular preachers who gathered followers and were seen as a threat by the powerful civil and religious leaders.
Elijah, the other popular guess, was the prophet who disappeared in a fiery chariot and was expected to return at the end of time. People who identified Jesus with Elijah were putting him in the category of the prophets. They were guessing and maybe even hoping that he might be the one to usher in the end of the world.
Jesus now asks the disciples “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ”. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Christ is asking you the same question he asked the Apostles: Who do you say that I am? Respond to him with generosity and courage. Say to him: Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me.”
Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him being the Christ. One reason was that the Romans and their collaborators dealt harshly with those who thought differently than they did. Also because Peter and the disciples did not really understand how Jesus would save them.
When Jesus begins to teach the disciples more about what will happen to him; He says that He “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, does it say that the Messiah would die, much less even suffer. This is likely why Peter rebukes Jesus after Jesus says he will suffer and die. Peter thinks Jesus has it all wrong: the Christ is not going to suffer, but will rule triumphantly. Jesus, however, knows otherwise. Jesus can only be the Christ, the Son of God, by suffering and dying on the cross. His disciples are called not to be mere admirers, but to take up their crosses and follow him.
Jesus was working from a fuller reading of Isaiah than the disciples had imagined. They saw the deaf hear and the mute speak and the blind see, but they did not realize that only because Jesus had accepted the role of the suffering servant described in this Sunday’s first reading was he able to perform these works. Jesus’ journeys took him past crucifixion sites on every Roman road. He identified with the criminals exposed there, recognizing that his own actions would lead to the same fate.
He also knew that any who took up his work would risk the same outcome. The Lord’s rescue mission is a strange one. Anyone who wishes to be saved must risk the hostility, punishment and humiliation that our rescuer first experienced. Whether that risk leads to the death of the body or only the death of the ego makes no difference. Any who follow Christ must accept that to rescue others, one must first accept a cross. The temporary humiliation of some can ensure the eternal salvation of many.
The Archbishop and all of us priests of the archdiocese carry the cross of sadness and lament at the sexual abuse sins of 31 of our priests between the 1930’s to the 1990’s. I hope there are no more credible charges of this sin against a minor ever again by a priest or by anyone.
For Jesus and the disciples the journey to Jerusalem would be long and hard, and even when they reached the climax of the cross, the disciples hadn’t comprehended Jesus’ message. But they had the love and faithfulness to remain on the road with him, and that was all that was necessary. We too are on a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem and we must remain faithful. We too have much to learn but the way we carry our cross will show our faithfulness to our God.