24th Sunday of Ordinary time/Bible Sunday (16 September 2018)
Isa 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Today’s readings challenge us to confront the truth about what we really believe about God. What is at the core of our existence and belief-system? And are we prepared to live our lives according to our certain belief about the things that are as yet unseen?
In the first reading, the Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant who was to come. There is no mistaking the real identity of the Suffering Servant who is revealed in Isaiah’s prophecies hundreds of years before the Incarnation of Jesus the Nazarene. The Suffering Servant offered no resistance to the will of God but instead submitted totally, believing all the time that nothing in this world could hurt Him. We are challenged to model ourselves on the Suffering Servant; to use our tongues in service of God by ministering to those who are wearied; to heed God’s word and to spread it; to submit to God as the Suffering Servant did. We, who are privileged to know the Risen Christ, understand that the suffering and death that Jesus endured in this world gave way to eternal life; and that having conquered death, Jesus shares with us His eternal life.
The central lesson we learn from the Suffering Servant is that our entire mission and purpose is to obey God completely. We learn that we are to live on this Earth in the hope of the Kingdom to which He will lead us, even though such a viewpoint is radically at odds with the priorities of this world. We need a dramatic transformation of our hearts if we are to subscribe to such a worldview and this is the subject of St James’ letter in the second reading. James does not dispute the basic truth that we are saved by the grace of God who rewards us for our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus; but James insists that such a faith must be a real belief that Jesus is the Son of God who truly lived and died for our sins and was raised from the dead. Anyone who believes in the absolute reality of Christ, His amazing love and His self-sacrifice cannot remain unchanged but will be transformed into a self-sacrificing model of the Perfect One. If our lives remain unchanged and we proclaim our faith with our mouths only, this is not live-giving faith.
The Gospel picks up on this theme in perhaps the most important exchange there ever was, when Jesus asked the disciples – Who do you say I am? Peter got the answer right first time, when he said Jesus is the Messiah. But an instant later, Peter demonstrated that his faith was still ill-formed for when Jesus predicted His Passion, Peter rebuked Him and in turn was rebuked by Jesus who told him that he was thinking not as God does but as a human. Peter had all the right intentions - he did not want the Lord he loved to suffer; but he missed the critical point that obedience to the will of God always comes uppermost and sometimes it requires an acceptance of suffering in this world believing all the time that eternal life and salvation awaits us at the end of this life.
We readily identify with Peter. We are quick to proclaim our faith with our mouths; but how far has it transformed us at the core of our being? Each day Jesus asks us – Who do you say I am; but how do we answer? And when He examines our lives, will He find that we have lived as though we truly believe He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?
Some points for reflection as you read the passages:
- What made it possible for the Suffering Servant not to resist the will of God? What are some of the challenges we face when asked to obey and submit to God?
- What is the basis for James’ insistence that true faith must be accompanied by a changed life? According to James, what do the good deeds in our life prove?
- Who do you say that Jesus is? To what extent does your life reflect your belief in Him? What are some things you might change to better evidence your faith?