The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 116; James 2: 14-18; Mark 8:27-35
As I watch Syrian and Iraqi families struggling to escape war and persecution; as the world’s nations haggle over their true motivations and the rejection of these peoples; as I read about the bombings of Christian churches; the martyrdoms by crucifixion and beheading of those who are called, “people of the cross”; I must admit a jealousy, an envy of these people stirs deep within me.
Why would anyone be jealous of these people and their situation?
I have lived a life of opportunity and privilege. And much of that privilege is because I am a Christian. A Christian who grew up protected in Catholic ghettos and institutions; educated in Catholic schools; presuming the world celebrated the fasts and feasts; and respected because I am a Christian priest, a distinct class within the church and society. Do such walled gardens of reality prepare a person for a Christian life in our world? Do you not hear the dissonance between the Scriptural passages, the lives of Syrian and Iraqi Christians and our own lives?
The passages of Scripture are filled with uncomfortable images. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” [Isaiah 50:6] Jesus speaks of great suffering, rejection and being killed. Many of us have experienced great physical and emotional sufferings in life. We have been rejected by others from those early experiences of not being chosen for the team to a friendship suddenly ended or a refusal to enter into a lifelong relationship. But have any of us ever suffered or been rejected because of our relationship with Jesus? What price have any of us ever paid for following Jesus of Nazareth? It is simply too easy to be a Christian in our culture or not to be a Christian. And as secular as our culture is becoming; it still retains enough of its past Judeo-Christian veneer to allow us to pass as Christians.
Consider: Deny yourself! Take up your cross! Lose your life! What do these teachings mean? Have we domesticated, intellectualized and diluted Jesus and his message to such a degree that we no longer hear the Gospel and recognize it for what it is: offensive, absurd, fearful, radical?
What does it mean to deny yourself?
- Peter denies Jesus. “I do not know the man.” [Matthew 26:72] With these words Peter removes Jesus and his teaching from any consideration of having impact on his life decisions. Fear has taken over. Do we allow Jesus an impact on our decisions?
- In our consumerist society, where we are taught from a very early age to desire through the targeting of products to specific age groups, linking products to entertainment and spin offs with food products, have you ever denied yourself or your children anything? Christmas is coming. This consumerist feeding frenzy. What does that mean for the Christian and our choices?
- Do we put our desires and good aspects of life aside, to attend to the needs of another person?
- Picking up your cross is not accepting humbly and submissively any burden of life, the Greek text does not support such an interpretation. Rather are we prepared to put our life on the line for the sake of Jesus? Have any of us ever experienced that?
- Is there a willingness in our lives to do whatever God wants of us, despite the cost? Consider the scene in the garden of Gethsemane. In contrast consider Peter’s rebuke of Jesus and his denials. Peter calculated the cost was too much. Jesus is calculating the cost and isn’t sure he wants to pay the price…“let this this cup pass from me…” [Matthew 26:39] In contrast consider Peter’s rebuke of Jesus and his denials. Peter calculated the cost was too much, at least at this time.
What does it mean to lose yourself?
- Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life will save it. Does that make sense to you?
- Lose is an unusual word. We often use it to mean death: “I lost my husband three year ago” the widow replied. To lose something implies a search, the possibility of finding it again. Jesus tells three parables of loss and search: a sheep, a son, a coin. We can become lost in thought; a place a daydreams; unreality. We can lose ourselves in performing: dance or music, sport and play, where everything around us melts away and time has no meaning or hold on us.
- Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life will save it. What does Jesus mean when he invites us to lose ourselves?
Deny yourself! Take up your cross! Lose your life!
Teachings that are absurd, fearful, and radical.
If we find ourselves not troubled by the teachings of Jesus, if we do not question them, if we too hastily dismiss and dilute them, then as Tomas Halik, a Czech priest and theologian wrote, “we have forgotten to what extent we are rooted ‘in this world’ where totally different rules apply (Night of the Confessor, p.27) from the world and rules of Jesus. Too often, we are Peter! Calculating people of this world and not the world and its topsy-turvy values of Jesus of Nazareth experienced by many other Christians.
My feelings of jealousy and envy are the groanings of hunger; hunger for a deep, terrifying, and fearful relationship with this Jesus. I am still calculating the cost.