Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 13: 24th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

September 13: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

The Gospel of this Sunday centers on the mystery of the Cross. That is the best way to understand who Jesus is for you and me. Jesus sets the stage by testing his disciples to find out if they really know who he is. Jesus cleverly starts by asking who other people say he is. Just like people today, there many opinions. Some say Jesus is a powerful prophet, others a great teacher, still others he is a great wonder-worker. Jesus will have none of that. He doesn't care about public opinion. He doesn't care what the "experts" say. Jesus cares about the human person. So he asks, "But who do you say that I am?" When you stand before a tabernacle, before whom do you stand? Who is Jesus? Peter responds, "You are the Christ." Yes, that's good, but not good enough. That is not the full identity of Jesus. That is why Jesus immediately predicts his own suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. When Peter hears that, he reacts from his human perspective. How could the Christ, the Messiah suffer? That is why Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. Peter thought that Christ was a conquering Messiah; that the cross is for criminals, for evil-doers, not for Jesus. In that scene along the way, Jesus wants to remind his disciples and us too that our faith in him as a glorified Messiah is not his full identity. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah calls our attention to the fact that persecution and suffering were the destiny of the Servant of God. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard….” In the second reading, James helps us to see clearly the necessity of placing our understanding corporal works of mercy in the perspective of the mystery of the cross, as we respond to the needs of the poor. In other words, it is not enough to tell a hungry person “Go in peace…and eat well.” A parish that has no social ministry program is not fully responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lacks the compassion and love of Christ as he hangs on the cross.

In the Gospel reading, Peter, like many of us thought that he knew who Jesus was, only to be shocked by Jesus' prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. Our call by Christ must involve the cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Like Peter, we want to live our faith on our own terms, without the mystery of the cross; without being involved in the suffering of those without the basic needs. Certainly this is not easy, for it means denying ourselves of our own comfort. The readings remind us that the cross is the path to happiness. There is no short-cut. It means being prepared to risk dying for others like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who on March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for the commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to die as Jesus did. The spirituality of the cross does not mean that we get crucified as Jesus was; does not mean being shot as Archbishop Romero was; it means being prepared to endure inconveniences for sake of others. One example would be a family situation where the wife at home gets sick while husband is at work. She calls him and tells him she is sick and asks him to pick up the kids at school. The best response would be, “Yes dear I will, and do you want me to do anything for you on my way, like some medication, the grocery?” In other words, it means being prepared to become a sacrificial gift to the other. What message do we take home? 1) The best way to understand Jesus is to see him in the perspective of the Cross: the way that Jesus suffered, was rejected, died on the cross for our sake and rose. 2) Following Jesus implies and involves taking up the cross: suffering and dying to self so that Jesus may raise us up to eternal life; it means becoming a sacrificial gift for others. 3) The way to Jesus, to happiness, and to eternal life is the way of the cross; the way of offering ourselves for the sake of others so that Jesus may rise to eternal life; it means embracing the selfless love of Jesus for others.

©2009 John M. Mbinda

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