24th. Sunday (Year B)
(Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)
We heard in the first reading a prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the coming leader who would deliver Israel from her bondage to sin. He is known as the Servant because He would be totally obedient to the Lord the God of Israel, and totally devoted to His Chosen people; He is better known as the Suffering Servant because it would be by His human sufferings -- pictured so graphically for us by the words of the prophet -- that He would fulfil God’s plans and purposes for His People, not by any triumphs of military prowess. Moreover, since those sufferings would come His way as part of God’s will for Him – not as mere chance manifestations of human wickedness -- therefore the Suffering Servant would be also be characterized by His constant listening for and to God in order to know His will and walk His way in total and unfailing obedience:
The Lord GOD opens My ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
Having come to do His Father’s will, Jesus’ constant aim throughout His life was to listen to, obey, and thereby glorify His Father. This He showed, for example, when He chose Peter as the foundation rock for His Church because He, Jesus, recognized that it was His Father Who had revealed the truth to Peter “It was not flesh and blood which revealed this to you but My Father in heaven”; and again, when, in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Not My will Father, but Thine be done.” Indeed, His final and supreme prayer was that His own death would serve for the ultimate glorification of His Father:
Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven, said, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that the Son may also glorify You.” (John 17:1)
Therefore, in order to show the faith of which St. James spoke in our second reading we too must always seek to hear, recognize, and respond to, the word of God. Faith is not something we are born with, it is our God-gifted response to Him Who addressed and confronted mankind supremely in and through His Beloved Son’s life and Gospel proclamation, His death and Resurrection, an event and a message now treasured by His Church in order to be passed-on and handed-down to His Christian and Catholic people world-wide in all its integrity and beauty, so that it might find a ‘home of resonance’ in the pure (dead to deliberate and wilful sin) and peaceful (God-seeking, self-less) depths of each and every truly Christian conscience.
In the Gospel reading we were told that:
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 Messiah.” Then He warned them not to tell anyone about Him.
Peter, as first of those uniquely called ‘fishers of men’, of those totally-committed first disciples of Jesus the prophet, had originally been privileged to hear the Father as Our Blessed Lord Jesus Himself tells us:
No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by My Father (John 6:65);
and now he became the first to publicly recognize and confess Jesus as the Messiah, saying those typically decisive and uncompromising words: You are the Christ.
There was no doubting Peter’s commitment to Jesus, but he had not yet learnt how to distinguish sufficiently between the Father’s revelation and his own intense and emotional feelings when Jesus began to speak openly and clearly about His own forthcoming Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Those words of Jesus so impacted upon Peter that, we are told:
Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke Him.
I would rather have said that he went aside to join Jesus, but in fact the gospel says that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him! Peter was, as I have just remarked, both decisive and determined by nature; but, on this occasion, his own loving intuitions concerning Jesus’ safety and honour led him to completely overstep the boundary between disciple and master, with the result that:
Jesus 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.”
What a put-down!! However, lest we think that Jesus’ response to Peter’s effrontery was motivated by anger, however justifiable, notice what St. Mark tells us:
Jesus turned around and looked at His disciples.
Yes, Jesus words were not even words of annoyance let alone anger, they were measured words deliberately chosen to guide and protect His other disciples – who both admired Peter and were accustomed to follow him with full confidence -- by correcting Peter’s presumptive impetuosity. Neither men nor circumstances were the issue at this moment; for Jesus, God His Father was in loving command over, and total control of, every aspect of His life, and such being Jesus’ love, every aspect of His Father’s word and will evoked a response of absolute commitment from Jesus: there was nothing that God could ask of His Son that His Son would not embrace, even to the extent of His Passion and Death on the Cross. Peter’s present anxious fear for Jesus’ well-being was quite alien to Jesus.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid? When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, these, my enemies and foes, themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust. (Psalm 27:1-3)
And so we see how, in order to instil in His disciples -- Peter above all -- total trust in His Father’s overseeing wisdom and love, Jesus rejected Peter’s blind emotionalism with those heart-felt and shockingly pertinent words: ‘Get behind Me, Satan!’ For Peter -- in his mixed-up proclivity to decisive action -- was actually carrying on where Satan in the desert had temporarily stopped: trying to persuade Jesus to seek His own ends, His own self, rather than follow His Father’s way, do His Father’s will.
Therefore Jesus called not only His disciples to Himself, but also we are told, the whole crowd of ordinary people following Him at that time, because the Church He would build would be built upon Peter the Rock and would have to believe totally and unswervingly that Jesus, the Head of His Body the Church, was, had always been, and to all eternity would always be, totally and completely, One with the Father:
I and the Father are One. (John 10:30)
Notice, not only those already fully committed to Jesus, not only those seeking to learn more and more about Him and His Good News, but even those ordinary people who were just seeing Him and hearing of His Gospel message for the first time, all of them had to appreciate this absolutely fundamental truth about Jesus’ relationship with God His Father, and about His plan for mankind’s salvation through their Gift of the Holy Spirit of Truth and Love, Power and Might:
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.”
Whoever, that is, having heard the Father’s call and come to Me, must realize that, as My disciple, he must follow Me and, in his turn, acknowledge that the Father is -- through the Spirit -- in total control of his life too, and trustingly follow the Father’s call wherever it might lead. ‘Whoever wishes to save his life’ -- fearing, that is, that the Father is not willing or perhaps not able to do so -- ‘will lose it’.
One of the iconic pictures of modern advances in social awareness and personal responsibility is that of a young person looking forwards and upwards -- that is, to an ideally bright and better future -- with the words ‘I want to do something worthwhile with my life’ on his or her lips. Regretfully, in reality, the life in question is almost always a life offered to such young people by the world according to the society in which they live, a life to be judged according to its correspondence with the world’s common aspirations such as success, popularity, charism, talent, all leading to plenty and pleasure; aspirations such as singular achievement, endurance, fighting-spirit and indeed ruthlessness, all manifestations of an individual ego striving to prove itself in so many and varied aspects and avenues of life in the world.
For us Christians and Catholics, however, that is not the life to which we are called: our life is offered to us not achieved by us; it is centred on God and the heavenly home being prepared for us; it is a life to be lived in the company of Jesus Who is the ‘Way, the Truth, and the Life’ for all our endeavours here on earth; a life to be realised in the power of His most Holy Spirit with which we have been gifted; it is a life to be gratefully embraced and brought to fulfilment in the company of men and women of good will called, like us, to live and to work for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind.