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Twenty-fourth Sunday – Year B – Ordinary Time
Readings: Isa 50:5-9a; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35.
Reading 1 (Isa 50:5-9a):
The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
Reading 2 (Jas 2:14-18):
What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
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?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone might say,
“You have faith and I have works.”
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
Gospel (Mk 8:27-35):
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?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
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.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
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.”
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.
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.”
Fr. Anthony Dinh Minh Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: Suffering is the only way to glory.
Mrs. P was pregnant and almost due. Her mother passed away and left for her dad four children. She must take care of her three brother and sisters in the place of her mother, especially to care for her next sister who suffered “lupus,” a very dangerous female disease. When a Catholic priest visits and consoles her family, she questions him, “Why does a merciful and powerful God let her, her sister and family suffer so much?”
Today readings can help to answer Mrs. P’s question. Although God has power to let her mother live and to heal her sister from sickness, but He chose the way of suffering so all members of her family may inherit the salvation. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah foretold what shall happen to God’s Suffering Servant: He shall have to suffer a lot of sufferings but he shall overcome all of them because his unshakable faith in God. Due to his sufferings, salvation is offered to all people. In the second reading, St. James advised the faithful that their faith in God must be expressed in deeds. If they love God, they must also help others by concrete acts. Faith without deeds is death. In the Gospel, when Peter told Jesus not to choose the way of the cross, Jesus rebuked him: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
1/ Reading I: The Third Song of God’s Suffering Servant
1.1/ The Suffering Servant must suffer a lot: The prophet Isaiah was permitted to foresee what shall happen to the Messiah and people. The Messiah is God’s Suffering Servant, he will liberate people by enduring many persecution and sufferings, “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” This prophecy happened for Christ when he obeyed God to come down from heaven to redeem human beings, especially in his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
1.2/ The Suffering Servant’s unshakable faith in God, his Father: To overcome sufferings, the Suffering Servant needs to have a strong faith in God who sent him into the world, as he said, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let him confront me.See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
In times of facing sufferings as Mrs. P, no one can help her except God. He let sufferings happen for her, not because He doesn’t love her or wants her to suffer without reason. In opposition, He wants her and all her family members to recognize the truth: they can’t live without His love and care. In the present time, they must suffer; but in the future, they shall recognize the love of God, parents, and all other members in her extended family. These things shall help everyone in her family to be loyal to God and others. The final result is that all shall be united in heaven.
Suppose these sufferings doesn’t happen for Mrs. P’s family. She and her other members can be so content with material gains without their need of God; for example, some of them are no longer to participate in the weekly mass! This is the question for Mrs. P to reflect on: If the ultimate goal of life is to unite with God for ever in heaven, what she should prefer more: to suffer temporally in this world or to suffer and to be separated for ever in the next life?
2/ Reading II: Faith without deeds is death.
2.1/ Human sophistries: Many people are deceiving themselves by the saying: “A person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28, cf. Gal 2:16). St. Paul indeed had a reason to say this sentence because people are saved by Christ’s blood; but not because of this that, human beings can be saved at any cost. St. Paul himself also suggested many things people must do to inherit salvation. We can list out at least three examples in the Letter to the Romans:
(1) In the Day of Judgment: “By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works” (Rom 2:5-7).
(2) When talking about judging, he taught, “Each of us shall give an account of himself to God. Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom 14:12-13).
(3) When mentioning about the preparation for the Last Day, he advised: “the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy” (Rom 13:12-13).
Jesus himself also clearly declared: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). St. James in today passage listed out a concrete example: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?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?”
2.2/ Faith must be expressed in action: The problem isn’t about to choose between faith and work, but to have both faith and work, good work is the sign of the one who has faith. Therefore, St. James made a conclusion: “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith and good works are like two faces of a coin; if one chooses the coin, he must practice both. Each of us also has this experience: we shall not believe those who only love us by their words; but when we look at their works, we can recognize that if they truly love us. The painful trial which Mrs. P’s family is suffering, shall help Mrs. P’s sister to recognize God’s love, her love and the love of all other familial members. This recognition shall help her sister to trust in God’s love and her familial love; not to live selfishly and to live as without anyone in her life.
3/ Gospel: You are the Messiah of God.
3.1/ Peter professed his faith in Jesus: The Passion is near, 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?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” Each opinion is based on one of Jesus’ characteristics such as: talking straightforward and forceful as John the Baptist, having power to work miracles as the prophet Elijah. But all these opinions didn’t correctly express Jesus’ origin.
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”The Messiah is meant the Anointed which the Old Testament often mentioned about. He has a divine origin and shall be sent by God to liberate people. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus used to prohibit his disciples to talk to others about his secrecy. The reason is that he wanted them to have a right knowledge about the Messiah. He shall not use power, but sufferings to liberate from sins and death.
3.2/ The Messiah must suffer: After Peter’s declaration about Jesus’ divinity, he started to reveal for them the way of salvation which the Messiah is about to suffer: “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.He spoke this openly.”
(1) God wants to use sufferings to save human beings: God has power to save people according to people’s way, but He wants to save people by the way of suffering. Many people question why God does such thing. First of all, people need to know they aren’t wiser than God; when God chooses a way, that is the best way for human beings. If a servant can’t question his master why he must do this way and not that way, people also has no right to question God. Secondly, according to experience, people only need God when they are suffered; when people are prosperous and happy, not many of them remember and thank God. Lastly, people greatly love who sacrifice their life for them. Each time people look up on the cross, they should feel God’s immense love for them.
(2) Human being wants to avoid sufferings: Peter’s reaction was also like Mrs. P’s reaction above, and in line with Jewish tradition because they believe in a powerful Messiah. They can’t accept a sufferring Messiah. This is why Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
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.” Jesus’ statement confirmed the Isaiah’s saying, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isa 55:9). Instead of accepting God’s will. Peter wanted Jesus to accept and to do his way. This is the reason why Jesus rebuked him as Satan, because Satan is always against God’s will. This is also the reason why Jesus told him to go back because a disciple’s duty is to follow his master, not let the master to follow him.
Then, Jesus 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.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.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We aren’t wiser than God. Let us accept God’s wise teachings even though these teachings are completely opposing to our will.
– The way of sufferings is the wise way which God used to save human beings. He wants His Only Son to suffer to save mankind, and He also uses sufferings on human beings so that they might recognize that they can’t live without God and believe in Christ.
– To become Christ’s disciples, we must give up our will and carry our cross to follow him. An easy life shall make us to avoid God without attaining the ultimate goal of our life.