September 16, 2018
24th Sun Ord Time
Sun 8 & 10 am
Isaiah 50:5-9a; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Most Sundays the readings and the Gospel are about peace and consolation. But once in a while the readings are a swift kick in the pants! This is one of those Sundays. So brace yourself!
The Gospel is from Mark Chapter 8 which is the turning point in the ministry of Jesus and in the faith of His disciples. Up to this point they had heard His message and witnessed His miracles (last Sunday – deaf, mute). But it is here at this point where Jesus wants to know exactly where they stood, exactly where their hearts were so He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” The scripture said He asked them this question in the villages of Caesarea Philippi which was an especially pagan region known for its worship of many different Greek gods (false idols). And in the same way, He asks each of us this day and every day, in this modern time in which many false idols are worshipped (power, pleasure, material, self), He asks us “Who do you say that I am?” You see He wants to know exactly where our hearts are, what our priorities are? Because the answer to that question determines if we are ready to live what He is about to tell us next, which is true discipleship.
A disciple is one who follows someone or something and continues to learn from them. Jesus calls each of us to true Christian discipleship, following Him in His example and learning from Him. In the Gospel He indicates what it will take to be His disciple, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected…” as was foretold by Isaiah in our 1st reading. Jesus is saying that if I must suffer and be rejected than my disciples must experience the same…Peter took Jesus aside and tried to talk some sense into Him. But Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” In other words, Peter wasn’t getting it at first. He was thinking as the world does. Why did Jesus have to suffer? Why do we have to suffer?!! Now did Jesus back down and soften His stance? Not at all! The scripture said He summoned the crowd and His disciples and told them plainly (read my lips), “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” That’s the kick in the pants! That’s true discipleship which we are all called to. The call to embrace the cross, to embrace the not-so easy road for the sake of the Gospel and for the good of the other. Jesus is telling us that true discipleship is not about comfort, riches and pleasure. No, it’s about service and sacrifice and self-denial. Jesus challenges His followers to commitment through self-denial and sacrifice, even the sacrifice of life itself…Nike, the shoe company, has had a very successful add campaign for the last 30 years that you are probably familiar with, “Just Do It.” Well, they just dropped a new ad, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” As always we should see everything including this ad through the eyes of faith. We as Christians, as disciples of Christ, should take the Gospel message and the invitation to true discipleship so seriously that we use this motto as our own, but of course we Christianize it, “Believe in something, in the Lord Jesus Christ and His message, even if it means sacrificing everything.” Jesus is telling us that real discipleship means to “crucify” our own needs and comfort for the good of the other, to take on with humility the demanding role of servant, to intentionally seek the happiness of the other regardless of the cost to ourselves. This is not feel good religion or lukewarm Christianity. No, this is commitment and true discipleship that we are all called to.
But how do we know that we are true disciples in this context? We know by our works (deeds, actions). James tells us in the 2nd reading, “What good is it, my brothers & sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?...Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” In other words, someone can claim to be a Catholic Christian but if he or she does not show it by action, then there is a problem. There is a saying, “Just because you stand in the garage it doesn’t make you a car.” The same is true for Christian discipleship. James says, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” This goes back to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” If we say that we are a Catholic Christian with Jesus as our personal Lord & Savior, if we say that we are His disciple then it will show by the way we live our lives, in our words and our deeds. It will guide our every action and reaction.
So if works are the proof of faith what do they look like? Any work in Christ takes self-denial & self-sacrifice: caring for a sick child or parent in the middle of the night when you need sleep for work the next day; sharing your time & talent in a ministry at church when you would rather be at home watching TV; sharing a portion of your hard-earned money on a consistent basis for the day-to-day operations of the parish and for special needs when you would rather spend it on pleasure or something you really don’t need. Works take self-denial, but done in Christ they take on a priceless value within the Kingdom of God and they give us a peace and a satisfaction that is not of this world.
Jesus calls us to be His disciples and to good works right where we are. He asks us to take up our crosses in the everyday joys and sorrows in our homes and in our community. He calls us to good works and self-denial in big things but also in everyday routine things. What about when you are at a stop light in a long row of cars and someone is trying to enter from the side. Do you let them in or pretend like you don’t see them?!! What about when you are in the grocery store and you have a full basket and the person behind you has a couple items. Do you not make eye contact with them or do you let them go ahead of you? And what about when you are heading into the restaurant from your car and someone else is heading in the same direction, do you speed up to beat them or let them go ahead of you? These are just a few ways of faith demonstrated by works in our daily lives. Faith without works is dead! Now that doesn’t mean we can’t ever enjoy ourselves or go on vacation, watch a movie or some football. Everything should be in balance and in moderation. God provides the time and resources we need for them all. We just need to prioritize.
My brothers and sisters, the Gospel is peace and consolation but is also a kick in the pants. Which means Go! Move! Do something for the Kingdom as true disciples of Christ: at home, in the parish and in the community. Your answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” makes all the difference in this world and the next. Go out and prove it. Faith with works is alive! Faith with works is true Christian discipleship. Just do it!