24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50: 5 – 9a; Ps 116; James 2: 14 – 18; Mark 8: 27 – 35
The word “belief” has many synonyms and among them is the word “conviction” which has this connotation: belief that excludes doubt and that proceeds usually from weight of evidence. It is the word “conviction” that comes to my mind from all the readings today.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of his trials yet he can exclaim, “See, the Lord is my help!” It is this conviction that colors his thinking, affects his life and moves him to a deep trust in God. The author of Psalm 116, the responsorial psalm, has the same conviction: “I fell into distress and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the Lord, ‘O Lord, save my life!” And He did….Because of this, the psalmist can say, “I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
St. James, with this same profound belief tells us in no uncertain terms: faith without works, that is works of charity, of love for one’s neighbor, is dead! So much for his conviction!
In the Gospel, Jesus is moved to ask what people say about Him and various answers are given. But then, Jesus becomes more pointed and addresses the disciples. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, the spokesman, with conviction, immediately replies, “You are the Christ.” Jesus, now, seizes the opportunity to teach, to expand the truth of Peter’s reply.
Jesus’ teaching about Himself – suffering, rejection, being killed and then rising – is not what Peter and the rest expected nor wanted to hear. Peter, like a Dutch uncle, takes Jesus to task but, Jesus has no time for this. His words, in the hearing of all, are strong, “Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” I imagine Peter felt like crawling into a hole.
Now Jesus speaks to the disciples and the crowd, as well. All need to hear this. His teaching now is about being a disciple of the Christ, a believer, a man/woman of conviction. His words leave no doubt about the radical nature of following Him. It entails a life of self-denial, of dying to self-absorption, of dying to selfishness “me-first” – in Jesus’s words: “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.”
Jesus’ question remains as do all the words of the Gospel – timeless and ever now, are addressed to us here. “Who do you say that I am?” Surely, we can answer that rather easily in a number of ways. Lord, you are the Son of God, the Savior, my Lord, my Redeemer – and all are correct. But what if Jesus were to press us, what if He were to say, “Prove it to Me! Your words are right but what about the way you live those words. What does this belief look life in your life?”
What would you/I say to this? Nothing? Stammer something? Become indignant? Put our head down – embarrassed by so personal a question? Perhaps, thinking: “let’s not get too serious about this.” Because we are here, are we not serious about our Catholic faith so let us face the question: Just what does my life say to the Lord about my belief in Him?
In truth, we all fail and God, in His mercy, is never turned against us because we fail or sin. He came to save sinner…us! With that said, overall, what marks my life in my relationship with God, with my neighbor, with myself? Is there charity, compassion, the giving of myself or is there more self-absorption which shows itself in forgiveness when the mood strikes or in kindness when it is convenient and not too demanding. It is the difference between saving my life for myself and losing it for the sake of Christ. It is the difference between really believing in Jesus Christ and acting a part in a play….it is interesting that the Greek word for actor is “hypocrite.”
We come today in our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, our Lord – the Lord of your/my life – we gather for this Holy Eucharist so that we can and will grow in our belief, our conviction in Him and through Him in the Father and the Holy Spirit.
When we leave here this morning, we will have heard God’s Sacred Word, we will have been nourished by the Most Holy Eucharist and we will have been graced to live in faith, hope and love – the marks of belonging to Christ, the signs of holy conviction.
Isn’t that why we come?