Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whoever Would Be My Disciple Must Pick Up The Cross And Follow Me

Today’s First Reading (Isaiah 50:4c-9a) speaks of the mission of the Servant of God who has been given a particular mission: that of Prophet. The one who is called must listen carefully, not only to hear the word of God, but to understand the meaning and purpose of God’s message. That is the positive aspect of learning to be a Prophet – a Servant of God who accepts the mission to speak in God’s name, and on God’s behalf, to people who are not always going to be happy with what they hear.

This brings us to the second point of Isaiah’s message. The Servant must be willing to suffer. Men who read this reflection know about nicks, scratches, gouges and rashes that occur in the process of shaving one’s facial hair. Having three sisters, I know that those of the gentler gender will have their own uncomfortable reactions to what Isaiah wrote. Brothers and sisters, just imagine what it was like to pluck out the hairs one by one, which was the traditional way of bringing shame upon a man. (See Isaiah 7:20, and 15:2). The Servant of God must not be self-centered, but focused on the Lord. This gives the Servant the determination to carry on the Lord’s work.

The prophet then begins to speak in the language of the courts. “He who is near” – that is, the Lord, is the one who upholds his right to speak – since it is the Lord who has commissioned him to speak on God’s behalf, and those who confront him are dealing not only with him, but with the One who sent him.


Today’s Second Reading (James 2:14-18) is focused on the nature of faith. Having real faith always leads to doing good works. Good works are the fruit of love. Where there is no love – whether of God or of others – there are no good works, because there is no foundation in true faith.

James then focuses on those who are in urgent need, those who lack enough food, or proper clothing. If a member of the community of Christians looks at their situation and says, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well”, but does not do anything to provide them with the food, clothing, and shelter that they need, what does that say about the faith they profess? In a word, they have no real faith, because “Faith without good works is dead!”

Some might say that one person has faith and the other has good works. Such a person thinks that faith and good works are distinct and separate from one another. This suggests that God is pleased with either good faith or good works. The question James raises is this: Can it be shown that one can have sufficient faith to be saved if there is nothing to demonstrate the fruits of that faith? The truth is: It is impossible to show that a person has faith if there are no good works as evidence. Genuine faith moves the believer to works of charity – good works. To say one has faith proves nothing. Jesus says: A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matthew 7:17-20)


In today’s gospel (Mark 8:27-35), Jesus and his disciples are passing through Caesarea Philippi, going to Jerusalem from Capernaum, where they were staying. While on the way, Jesus asked the disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” Some replied, “John the Baptist”, others “Elijah”, still others “one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus asked them a different question: “And who do you say that I am?” Jesus emphasized the word “you”. It was not enough for the disciples to know what other people thought about Jesus, they had to decide for themselves. Now, Peter speaks for all of the disciples, making the bold statement, “You are the Christ!” Then Jesus tells warns the disciples not to mention that truth to anyone – it is not yet time for him to reveal himself.

The word Peter uses, “Christ”, is a Greek word that is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah”, meaning “the one who has been anointed”. The Jews in Jesus’ day were waiting expectantly for a Messiah who would lead an army against the Romans, defeat the enemy, and restore the kingdom of David. But when Jesus spoke with his disciples, he taught them that the Christ must suffer and die before the Kingdom could be restored. He was not speaking about the kingdom of David, but God’s Kingdom, the world that existed before the first sin was ever committed.

Jesus then began to explain to his disciples that he would be rejected by the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, the religious authorities of the Temple in Jerusalem. He told them that he would suffer greatly and would be killed, and that he would be raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus knew that his suffering and death were part of God’s plan: the person who is qualified to make reparation for a serious offense must share the status of the offender, and at the same time, share the status of the one offended. In other words, the Redeemer must share both human nature and divine nature. Only Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, can fulfil that mission.

Peter and the other disciples heard what Jesus was saying, and thought that they understood. But they really did not want to accept that such things would be happening to him. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to scold him. Jesus, recognizing the true source of Peter’s thoughts and words, said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human persons do.” It is first, a command to Satan to stop tempting Jesus. Then, a message to Peter and the other disciples: “I am the leader here. You follow me; I don’t follow you.”

Then Jesus addresses himself not only to the twelve disciples, but also to the people in the crowd that had gathered to listen to him. He invited them to follow him, but he did not offer them an easy life. Those who seek to be disciples of Jesus must learn to set aside their own desires and their own dreams. Those who follow him must carry their own cross.
In those days, when the law of Rome prevailed in the Holy Land, capital punishment was carried out by crucifixion. Outside the city gates, tall upright stakes were set into the ground and remained there permanently. A condemned criminal would carry a piece of wood a little bit longer than the arm-span of a grown man from the place of judgment to the place of execution. Because that piece of wood was attached horizontally to the upright, it was called the “crosspiece” – in Latin “crux”, and the method of execution soon became known as “crucifixion”. That is the way Jesus would be executed, and from the outset, he told anyone who wanted to follow him that they must be willing to share the same shame and the same suffering – and perhaps even, the same sort of death – as he did.

The final admonition of Jesus “whoever wishes to say his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it”, has two levels of meaning:

• Living a self-centred lifestyle does not give true value to anyone’s life.
• Life in this world lacks all real value if the cost is the loss of eternal happiness with God.

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