24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Joke of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
Today’s readings feature the famous passage from the Letter of Saint James in defense of the unity of faith and works:
“ Faith in itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Thus, we can accept James’ wisdom in the two verses preceding the famous quote above:
“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).
Today’s reflection: Peter declares that Jesus is the “Christ” prophesized in Jewish Scripture; and Jesus teaches that those who would follow Him must take up his or her cross. How heavy is YOUR Cross?
(NAB Mark 8:27-35) 27 Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” 34 He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
Who IS Jesus for you? For the 1st century Jews, Jesus was widely recognized throughout His homeland as a charismatic man and prophet of God. He was even compared with the greatest of the prophets: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and even John the Baptist. Peter, however, recognizes Jesus as being the true “Messiah” (the “Anointed One”) promised in Jewish Scriptures. No mortal human being could have ever revealed this divine fact to Peter; but, this truth, this identity of Jesus, could only be revealed to him through the actions of God the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit working in Peter, AND through him.
In Mark’s Gospel for today,, Jesus tries to reveal Himself more to all His disciples who were struggling to accept the mysterious unity of His words and deeds – – (along with His unity of a human AND divine nature. Peter correctly proclaims before his fellow disciples that Jesus “is the Christ“. However, when Jesus speaks openly about His suffering and death to come, Peter then rejects the way Jesus expects to “reveal Himself” who He truly IS: the true “Messiah”(in Greek: “Christ”) prophesized in their Jewish Scriptures. Peter is then quickly rebuked by Jesus, who uses this public rebuke of him, and by doing so, to teach the other disciples not to think as Peter. Mark has Jesus literally declaring that Peter is:
“Thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33).
How shocked and upset do you think the disciples were when they heard these ominous words of suffering and death coming from Jesus- – and Jesus’ rebuke as recorded by Mark?! This is what Mark has to say:
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31).
This episode in Mark’s Gospel is the turning point in regards to Jesus’ public ministry. Popular opinions among those 1st century Jews following Jesus as disciples regarded Jesus as a “prophet”. In contrast, His closest disciples believed Jesus to be the true Messiah Savior. Jesus acknowledges their correct identification, but prohibits them from making His messianic mission known to others. Why? Jesus does so in order to avoid confusing His true mission with false and ambiguous contemporary views known by the Pharisees and others, with their misconceived nature of what His mission should be – – according to THEIR viewpoints!!
At the time of Jesus, the image of the Messiah was laden with extremely popular expectations of a messianic military-political leader who would physically “free” the Jewish people from Roman domination occupation – – in other words, a divine socio-military leader (another King David).
The image and expectation of Jesus as this Messiah Savior, declared by Peter as spokesman for the other disciples (cf., Mark 8:27–29), is modified significantly in Mark’s Gospel when compared to Matthew’s account. Matthew shows Peter’s declaration actually amplified and extended: stating Jesus as both the prophesized “Messiah” AND the true “Son of the living God”:
“Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).
“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).
So, per Matthew, Peter’s “faith”, inspired by the Father. grasped the unity of the human and the divine in Jesus, the person called “Christ”. He was the first disciple recorded as recognizing Jesus as the divine “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ). Peter’s faith however, per Mark, was very much “human”, as proved when told by Jesus it was necessary for Him, the “Messiah”, to suffer and die for God the Father’s work in order to bring about actual salvation and redemption to be accomplished!
Mark shows Jesus Christ using the term, “Son of Man” (v. 31). Jesus does not use the term “Christ or “Messiah” for Himself in Scripture. So, we see in today’s reading, Jesus referring to Himself instead as the “Son of Man”, a term derived from Jewish Scriptures: e.g., chapters two and three of the book of Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14) to indicate His identity. Many bible scholars today suggest that the phrase “Son of Man” is best understood to mean simply, “human being”: Jesus uses the term to apply to Himself, and to describe His understanding of His messianic (divine) identity.
“Son of Man” is has a quality of mystery and ambiguity about it. This title was difficult to understand by most people hearing it come from Peter on that day, before his peers. “Son of Man”, of itself, means simply “a human being”; yet, there is evidence of this term being used prior to Christian times in Jewish writings (e.g., Ezekiel and David) long before Jesus’ public ministry. I believe Jesus’ use of this title about Himself, is due to His speaking of Himself in a certain unique, mysterious, way: as a completely “divine” person being completely “human” able to live, suffer, experience rejection and betrayal, and even death (something God cannot do; or, CAN HE?)!! “WOW!!” My faith inspires me to say more: I believe Jesus Christ saw beyond His death and burial; His Rising from His grave; His appearing to His mother, the other Mary’s, and Peter; His ascending to heaven; and His glorious coming at the end of the age. In the meantime … He still comes to us – – in the Holy Eucharist – – in order to strengthen us to take up our individual cross and follow Him all the days of our lives.
Now that the disciples have acknowledged Jesus as “the Christ”, Jesus confides in them the soon-to-be outcome of His earthly public ministry: Jesus knows He will be “rejected”, He “must suffer and die”, and He “will rise after three days”. Peter emotionally rejects this foretelling prediction; so, Jesus rebukes Peter severely for his “earthly”, one-dimensional view.
In today’s reading, Jesus is giving us NOT the image of the Messiah Savior who Peter and all Jews were expecting, but the “Christ” image He has of Himself. Instead, Jesus is teaching the crowd about the reality of His path of true discipleship. In order to be “Christ’s” disciple, Jesus makes it clear one must follow in the way of the cross – – in the way of HIS cross – – in the way of OUR cross.
“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel * will save it” (Mark 8:34),
He challenges all believers (you and me) about authentic discipleship AND about a total commitment to Him – – through our acceptance of the Holy Cross of daily suffering brought about by our fidelity to normal duties and obligations – – even to the sacrifice of our life itself for our family, our country, our Lord God, and even OUR SELVES.
Some of our suffering comes about because of a certain ambivalence – – two opposing ideas – – of life now, AND to life as we will know it when we enter into the destiny Jesus promises. A life seen as a meager or simple “self-centered” (materialistic, narcissistic) earthly existence, and lived in denial of Christ, will always end in greater suffering and destruction. Such a life possesses an eternal separation from the JOY our Trinitarian God: in the glory and beauty of everlasting paradise (the “New Jerusalem” above).
However, when lived in loyalty to Christ, even despite our earthly human death, our lives will be delivered to live in a completely divine “fullness”. Jesus explained to all who would listen what it would cost, individually and personally, to follow Him as their Messiah. It would cost EVERYTHING, including their very lives! (Example: 11 of 12 Apostles were martyred; and the surviving Apostle, John, was exiled to a lonely island, to live in a cave.) How can anyone make such a costly demand? Well, God the Father freely gave us His Son, Jesus Christ to save us from the effects of sin and death by giving His very life – – not just a physical death, but also a spiritual death – – HELL – – so we would not have to experience this sad separation:
“Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Romans 8:1-4)!!
Perhaps this is why Mark finishes his reading for today with a simple, yet spiritually complex verse:
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Later Mark uses similar terms again, to equate Jesus with the Gospel, the “good news” of God:
“Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first’”(Mark 10:29-31).
When we exchange our life for His life – – working in, with, and through us – – we receive far more than we could ever give up. In this awesome exchange of lives, we receive pardon, peace, and the abundant eternal life of God’s kingdom now; and we also receive a sacred, divine, promise of a resurrection – – an unending life with God – – in the next age to come.
We can easily miss the fear Jesus’ words must have evoked in His disciples when uttering His ominous warning. Death by scourging and crucifixion was all too familiar as the preferred method of execution in Roman-occupied territories. It was a universal, continuous, danger to the 1st century Christian community for whom Mark wrote. The “path” Jesus was inviting His disciples to share meant, almost always assured, tremendous suffering and death for the early Christians. This is the kind of radical commitment and sacrifice Jesus calls us to adopt “for the sake of the Gospel”, even still today. (If you do not think so, look at what is happening in the middle-east this past week! Please pray for our Orthodox Catholic Brothers and Sisters.)
Peter certainly had expectations about what it meant to call Jesus the prophesied “Messiah”, the Christ. Jesus was indeed the “Messiah”; but His life, and eventually His death, would show to all a different understanding of what it means to be the Messiah Savior.
We, too, have expectations of our Trinitarian God, the Holy One of Israel. Our own expectations are about what we think God ought to be doing in our present-day world. Like Peter in today’s reading, we may risk limiting our image of God by thinking only in “human ways”. God’s plan is always more than we can ever imagine with our finite minds and imaginations. God’s thoughts and ways are absolutely different from our human, materialistic, earthly thoughts and ways! Through humiliation, suffering, and death on the Holy Cross, Jesus broke the confining power of evil, sin, and spiritual/physical death. Jesus, instead, won for us redemption, salvation, and eternal paradise in heaven. So, when talking to Jesus in prayer, how do you answer Him when asked, “Who do you say that ‘I AM’?” (He has asked this question to you. You may have only heard it just now!) I answer this question multiple time each and every day with the following:
“Jesus, I trust you, I love You. You are my God and my ALL!!” (My personal “Jesus Prayer”)
More than any of Jesus’ other works (actions), Jesus’ passion and death is a living, active, expression of His “Words” – – in action; a living, redemptive, saving love for All His creation. To be a Catholic Christian is to become conformed to Christ – – FULLY!! Jesus states, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me“. The image of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah is prophecies of “Christ”, as being the one who can say:
“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; My face I did not hide from insults and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He who declares my innocence is near. Who will oppose me? Let us appear together. Who will dispute my right? Let them confront me.” (Isaiah 50:6-8).
Jesus spoke openly to His disciples, and dealt openly with those who opposed Him. As those who bear the name of Christian Catholics, our faith should remain open to Jesus’ revelation of Himself in our daily lives, that we might lose our preconceptions of ourselves and others for the works of living His “Word”, His good news, His Gospel today, everyday, NOW, forever and ever. AMEN!!
Reflect on what you expect God to be doing in the world – – in YOUR world. Reflect about why you believe Peter was so upset with what Jesus was saying to Him? Jesus was also truly upset by Peter’s reaction to the foretelling of His passion and death. Do we sometimes forget to just let God BE GOD for us? Do we sometimes get discouraged because God doesn’t act in the world in ways WE expect Him to act? Pray for a continual knowledge of God, always working for the world’s redemptive salvation, through ways beyond our limited imaginations.
When we discover the treasure of God’s kingdom – – God Himself – – we gladly give up all we have in exchange for the life of joy, exaltation, and happiness only God can offer us. He always gives without measure. There is NO sadness or loss which can ever diminish the joy God offers to each of us personally – – on a daily, moment-to-moment, basis! The Holy Cross of Jesus Christ truly and fully leads to TWO victories: a freedom from evil, sin, and death, AND, a freedom for choosing (a) not to sin, and (b) the better “right” things to do. Let me ask, “What is the cross Jesus Christ is commanding you to take up each day?” When my “will” crosses with His “will”, His “will” must be achieved. (His “will” will “will” my “will”!!) Are you ready to lose ALL on this earth, for Jesus Christ, in order to gain ALL WITH Jesus Christ? I know “I AM” (and “me too”!)!
“A Prayer Of Praise To God For His Salvation”
“I love the LORD, who listened
to my voice in supplication,
Who turned an ear to me
on the day I called.
I was caught by the cords of death;
the snares of Sheol had seized me;
I felt agony and dread.
Then I called on the name of the LORD,
“O LORD, save my life!”
Gracious is the LORD and righteous;
yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD protects the simple;
I was helpless, but he saved me.
For my soul has been freed from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Amen”
(From today’s Mass – Psalm 116:1-6,8-9)