TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Isaiah 50:4-9Psalms 116:1-6, 8-9James 2:14-18Mark 8:27-35
The structure of Mark’s short gospel is important, and so the placing of Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi in the very middle of his gospel is no accident. That any of the disciples given their obtuseness, let alone Peter, could get to the point of professing Jesus as the “Christ,” the Messiah, is extraordinarily noteworthy. For more than seven chapters of Mark’s gospel the apostles have been privileged to watch Jesus, listen to Jesus, and they have had front row seats to those miracles that proclaim the Kingdom of God has, indeed, arrived.
Apparently, there was little talk about just what kind of Messiah Jesus would be, for once Jesus shares with His intimate band 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,” it is then that Peter’s boldness takes over, pulls Jesus “aside and began to rebuke him!” The “rebuke” implies a sharp and stern disapproval. The God of Glory is reprimanded by an impetuous fisherman, and merits one of the most angry responses given by Jesus in the Scriptures: “Get behind me, Satan.” That Jesus would “rise after three days,” took none of the sting away from a suffering Messiah.
For the followers of Jesus who were well-versed in their Jewish Scriptures, the notion of a “suffering servant” was not a foreign concept, and Isaiah in the first reading gives us a glimpse of such a servant who gives his “back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” Even the psalmist supports the notion of such a servant, for “gracious is the Lord and just…. [He] has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. [And He] shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
Next weekend’s gospel will once again show Jesus teaching about the necessity of suffering and Messiahship, but the disciples are described as not understanding the “saying, and they were afraid to question Him.” If the truth be told, we, too, have a hard time understanding the redemptive nature of suffering, and when we are forced to take our turn under the harsh mantel of suffering, it is difficult to understand how this could possibly be for our own good. What is particularly troubling is discerning the purpose of those ordinary and everyday kinds of suffering, the calumnies and misunderstandings, the rash judgments and mean-spiritedness, the nasty arrows of evil pointed in our direction. What Jesus teaches us is that without the suffering of the cross there is no redemption.
Our second reading from James should not be skipped over lightly, for it points to the necessity of needing more than just faith, for without tangible works, James says, our faith is “dead.” The sufferings associated with our faith in Jesus are not meant to lead us to the sidelines only to lick our wounds. No, our experience of suffering should cause us to act to eradicate all suffering. Poverty and racism inflict enormous wounds on our brothers and sisters, and if all we do is look at our suffering brothers and sisters and say “go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but we do nothing to insure that they have the necessities of life, “what good is that?” James, here in our second reading and elsewhere makes it clear that faith without works is useless. Our sufferings are not meant to selfishly improve our own condition, but they are meant to improve the condition of others so that the promised redemption of Christ can reach the ends of the earth. Suffering is of no good in and of itself. It can only be redemptive when we unite our sufferings with that of the Christ who embraced the cross that all might come to true life. It is where faith and good works meet that the work of Christ is accomplished.