Homily, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Patriot Day

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Is 50:5-9a; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

I once heard of a story of a man who wanted to walk across a waterfall through a tightrope. When people heard what he was trying to do, they all gathered around him to watch and cheer for him. Before the guy went on the rope, he asked the people: how many of you here believe that I can cross this waterfall without falling? They all cheered and yelled: “We all believe you. You can do it!” So, he started his way across. He finally made it to the other side and the people cheered loudly. From the other side, he yelled: “Who among you believe that I can go back across with my eyes blindfolded?” The people again cheered and yelled back: “We believe you. You can do it!” With blindfold in his eyes, the man proceeded to cross. After some time, he successfully made it across, and the people again cheered. But the man was not finished yet and without taking off the blindfold from his eyes he again asked the people: “How many of you believe that I can again walk across the tightrope with my eyes blindfolded, and with a man on my back?” The people yelled and cheered even louder: “We truly believe you now. You can certainly do it!” And so, the man asks: “Who wants to volunteer?” And there was complete silence. Just a reality check: when the time came for the people to put themselves on the line… no one seems to believe anymore!! “

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. Every time I hear or read this command of Jesus, it reminds me that following Jesus is not that easy. This is so because Jesus demands us to deny ourselves and to carry our cross. It is more than just saying I believe in God. It compels us to commit ourselves to Him and then face the challenges that come along with it. This is what Christian discipleship indeed entails.

This Sunday’s gospel falls at the half-way point of Mark’s Gospel and signals a turning point as Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually suffer betrayal, rejection, and torture, before dying on a cross. Although we know that the story ends with the Easter morning Resurrection, in the passage we hear this weekend, the Resurrection is a far-off event. Peter and the Apostles were not prepared to hear that something horrible was looming on the horizon.

When Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s reply is spot on: “You are the Christ.” A great statement of Peter’s faith, but it was also loaded with implications. For Peter and many of Jesus’ other followers, the expected Messiah or “anointed one” would be the long-awaited king who would bring justice and prosperity to the oppressed People of Israel. But Jesus makes it clear that he is not that kind of Messiah, and his followers won’t enjoy royal privileges. Jesus explains that, if those traveling with him are to be true disciples, they will have to imitate his example, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

By telling us to “take up” our cross, Jesus is not saying that we have to meekly submit to unfair treatment and suffering or embrace a blind sort of spirituality. While these may be opportunities for grace, illness, sad events or even disasters are not “the cross.” We can never silently or blindly accept abuse or injustice as being the will of God. Jesus rejected these and so should we. Instead, “the cross” that we are to carry is the sacrifices, trials, and hardships that are a consequence of placing our faith and hope in him and live according to his teaching. Just as faith without works is dead, as St James writes in today’s second reading, so following Christ without our cross is illusory. The cross in our life cleanses and clarifies our discipleship.

Is the kind of discipleship that Jesus describes heroic? Yes, it is! Is it rare? No! We see it every day in many situations- in the fidelity of marriage, in the faithfulness of priests and religious to their vocation, in the care given to ailing and failing parents and spouses, in the love and attention given to our children, in the hours donated to charitable causes, in the time spent in hospital rooms as a loved one recovers, in the comfort and help given to people after a death, in the struggle to endure a job one doesn’t like in order to support a family. These and so many more situations show us the real drama of how we can follow Christ. They show the grace and power of Christ at work around us and in us.

We come to the Father’s glory not by going out of this world but through it, not by avoiding our cross but by embracing it. Our faith, illuminated by the Resurrection, is challenged to see the cross not as death but as life, not as defeat but as victory, not as tragedy but as triumph. We can see that transformation in Jesus’ story.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This date carries a heavy burden of memory. We remember images of death and destruction. We remember our own feelings of emptiness as our sense of security, as our own confidence in the predictable order of life was radically shaken. We remember the heroism of the many that lost their lives in saving others. We remember all those who suffered and died, we grieve for them still, friends and strangers alike, along with their families and friends. And it is right that it should never pass from our memory. But along with our remembrance of profound loss, let us continue to pray for genuine peace in the world so that hatred is turned to love, fear to trust, despair to hope, oppression to freedom, and violent encounters replaced by loving embraces.

 

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