SR-2018-09-16

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B) – September 16, 2018


This Sunday’s Theme: Taking Up Our Cross.

Reading 1 speaks about a faithful Servant who suffers for His fidelity to God.  In the Gospel, Peter makes an important profession of faith about Jesus.  Then, Jesus teaches His second lesson on the nature of true discipleship, namely, a willingness to carry one’s cross.  In Reading 2, James states that authentic faith must express itself in good works.

With the crisis in our Church today, we have a heavy cross to bear for a very long time as the news is only going to get worse (we are “Suffering Servants”). Today’s Responsorial Psalm is a good resource to help ensure that our good works in support of our Church that we have performed in the past, we will continue to perform in the future – “I fell into distress and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the LORD, “O LORD, save my life!”.

Plus, we must also continue to think of the victims of the abuse who have a tremendous cross to carry. We could pray a version of The Prayer of St, Francis of Assisi for them – “Lord, where there is hatred, sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” Amen.


Reading 1 – Isaiah 50:5-9a     The Suffering Servant of God is assured of God’s help.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 116:1-9     A prayer of praise to God for His saving grace of our salvation.

Reading 2 – James 2:14-18     James teaches that faith must be demonstrated in one’s works.

Gospel – Mark 8:27-35     Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus teaches that those who would follow Him must take up his or her cross.<


Reading 1     Isaiah 50:5-9a              (The Lord Our Help)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – In Chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah, there are four passages known as the four Suffering Servant Songs. Today’s reading contains the third song of the Suffering Servant. Some modern scholars have proposed that this Servant in Isaiah might represent the nation of Israel or the prophets; others identify the Servant with an individual, like the prophet Isaiah himself, or the future Messiah (i.e. Jesus – which is our interpretation and there is reference to this in today’s Gospel). 
The Servant’s message in today’s reading, evidently meets with opposition and results in His persecution. But He absorbs all the physical and mental abuse directed at Him without retaliating. The insults don’t really touch Him, because He is confident that God will help and vindicate Him. This ties in with Jesus’ prediction of His passion in today’s Gospel. Jesus, too, is confident that God will vindicate Him by raising Him from the dead. The New Testament sees Jesus as the Suffering Servant par excellence.

The Lord GOD opens my (i.e. Jesus’) ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.[i] 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[ii].

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint[iii],
knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 116:1-9                                 (Saved by God)

Today’s Psalm – This is a thanksgiving prayer of one who has recovered from a serious illness. It reflects the feelings of both the Suffering Servant and Jesus in today’s first and third readings. This psalm conveys a sense of need as well as a deep trust in the Lord’s ability to take care of the needs of the people.

R. – I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living[iv].
I love the LORD because He has heard my voice in supplication, because He has inclined His ear to me the day I called.
R. – I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
The cords of death
[v] encompassed me; the snares of the netherworld seized upon me; I fell into distress and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the LORD, “O LORD, save my life!”
R. – I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
Gracious is the LORD and just; yes, our God is merciful. The LORD keeps the little ones
[vi]; I was brought low, and He saved me.
R. – I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
For He has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
[vii]
R. – I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Reading 2     James 2:14-18              (Faith and Good Works)

Context – The Letter of James is a sermon on how Christians ought to live. It is a pure specimen on the ethical teaching found in the Sermon On The Mount. St. James is called “the younger” or “the less” to distinguish him from James the brother of John. On account of his close kinship with Jesus he is known as the “brother of the Lord.” St. James tells the people that “faith without works is dead” but St. Paul says “salvation by faith alone”. Why the difference? It’s the different in their definitions of “faith”. James believes that “faith” is a noun = only knowledge of God’s Law, awareness of sound theology. Paul believes that “faith” is a verb = obedient belief (includes doing God’s work which includes knowledge of God). So, “faith” from John equates to “belief” from Paul and “works” from James equates to “obedience” from Paul. Thus, these ties bring the two Saints together in agreement on salvation.
Today’s Reading –   James responds to a misunderstanding in the early church about the true nature of faith. It seems some within the community think that faith only means correct belief as articulated in orthodox doctrine. James insists that authentic faith must express itself in good works. Action and right conduct are essential elements of faith.  Faith that does not express itself in good works is a false or dead faith. James gives a concrete example of how faith must lead to care for a needy brother or sister.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.               The theology of righteousness coming from works, only, was condemned by the Church at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. One cannot “earn” or “work” their way into heaven. The gift of eternal life with the Father is freely given to all who will avail themselves of it. However, one must live the life of Christ (i.e. be obedient to Christ) if they expect to enter heaven. The corporal works of mercy are done, not because we are obliged to do them, but because we love Jesus so much that we want to do them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). 


Gospel     Mark 8:27-35                                 (Glorying in Christ’s Cross)

Context – St. Mark’s Gospel was the first written of the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The date of writing was prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. St. Peter was Mark’s primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Mark is primarily known by his Roman name “Mark” but is sometimes called by his Jewish name “John” in other New Testament Writings. He was a cousin to Barnabas and an associate of St. Paul. Recognizing Jesus as the divine Son of God is the goal of this gospel. And it was written to encourage Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith. It begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
Today’s Reading – After having been consistently rejected and misunderstood despite all He has said and done, Jesus starts to proclaim the necessity of the suffering of the Son of Man – Suffering Servant. Today’s passage has two parts. The first deals with Peter’s profession of faith. The second involves Jesus’ teaching on the true nature of His messiah-ship—how it will involve suffering and how the cross will also be the lot of those who will follow Him.
In the first part, Jesus seeks to find out how His actions and words are being understood by the people.  Peter tells Him that many of the people think that He is a prophet raised from the dead. Then Jesus asks, “And who do you, my inner circle, say I am?” Peter, serving as spokesperson for his brothers, answers: “You are the Christ.” This means that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Even though Peter answers correctly, his reaction to Jesus’ reference to a suffering Messiah clearly shows how much he needs to grow in his understanding of Jesus’ messiahship.  Peter is repulsed at the very idea of a wounded and suffering Messiah, as well as a discipleship that will involve carrying one’s cross. It will take a lot of time and the action of the Holy Spirit for Peter and his friends to embrace the idea of a wounded and suffering Messiah and the belief that disciples will also suffer for being followers of Jesus.

Jesus and His disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi[viii]. 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.” [ix] And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” [x] Peter said to Him in reply, “You are the Christ.” [xi] Then He warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man[xii] must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke (express disapproval) Him.[xiii] At this He 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.” [xiv]

He summoned the crowd with His disciples and said to them, “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.”[xv]


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          “How hard and painful does this appear! The Lord has required that ‘whoever will come after Him must deny themselves and carry their crosses.’ But what He commands is neither hard nor painful when He Himself helps us in such a way so that the very thing He requires may be accomplished. … For whatever seems hard in what is enjoined, love makes easy” (Saint Augustine)

Catechism 440 – Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged Him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man. He unveiled the authentic content of His messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”, and in His redemptive mission as the Suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Hence the true meaning of His kingship is revealed only when He is raised high on the cross. Only after His Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”


TAKE UP THY CROSS

1. “Take up thy Cross,” the Savior said, “if thou wouldst my disciple be; deny thyself, the world forsake, and humbly follow after Me.”

2. Take up thy cross, let not its weight fill thy weak spirit with alarm; His strength shall bear thy spirit up, and brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.

3. Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame, nor let thy foolish pride rebel; thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
to save thy soul from death and hell.

4. Take up thy cross and follow Christ, nor think till death to lay it down; for only those who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown.
 (Charles W. Everest)



[i]  Reading 1 Footnotes:
“The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” = A true servant must first be a disciple, prayerfully receiving God’s word, before they can presume to teach others.
[ii]  “spitting” = The greatest indignity. Yet this was the treatment of our Savior (like today, when we use His name in vain). Like the prophets of the Old Testament before Jesus, He too, is ignored and even maltreated.
[iii]  “I have set my face like flint” = A phrase frequent in prophetic preaching (Ezekiel 3:8-9; Luke 9:51). It means that the Messiah would be firm and resolute amidst all contempt and scorn which He would meet; that He had made up His mind to endure it, and would not shrink from any kind or degree of suffering which would be necessary to accomplish the great work in which He was engaged.
[iv]   Responsorial Psalm Footnotes:
“in the land of the living” = During the psalmist’s lifetime.
[v]  “The chords of death” = The Psalmist’s is explaining that he is ill.
[vi]  “little ones” = The humble, meek, helpless.
[vii]  “I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” = The Psalmist has now recovered from his illness
[viii]   Gospel Footnotes:
Caesarea Philippi = A pagan city located at the headwaters of the eastern branch of the Jordan River.
[ix]   “Who do people say that I am? They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” = The people have at least recognized that Jesus has been sent by God, because all those mentioned by them were all sent by God.
[x]   “And He asked them, But who do you say that I am?” = In contrast to “people” these guys are the inner circle who received detailed explanations of the parables and to whom has been entrusted the secret of God’s kingdom.
[xi]  “You are the Christ (Messiah)” = The Suffering Servant as described in our Reading 1.
[xii]   “Son of Man” = Human being.
[xiii]   “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke (express disapproval) Him.” = Peter knew that Old Testament Scripture predicted that the Messiah would come to deliver Israel from Gentile domination, set up His earthly kingdom, and rule the entire world from Jerusalem (Zech. 14). But he failed to recognize that Isaiah had also predicted that the Messiah would suffer and die (Isa. 53).
[xiv]  “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  = Jesus uses the same words He used to address the devil in the desert (Matthew 4:10). Like the devil, Peter is “tempting” Jesus. He is not calling or naming Peter “Satan,” but telling him that like Satan, he is tempting Him. “Get behind me” is telling Peter to be a follower; he is not yet equipped to lead, he still has much to learn.
[xv]   “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.” = In this verse, “life” means “soul” – You can’t save your soul without Godly faith and good works. Also, “loses his soul for My sake and that of the gospel” means – Using your Free Will in obedience to God. Therefore, using your Free Will to do what you ought to do (i.e. faith and good works) makes you justified in God’s sight. We must seek and savor the things that are God’s and not the things of this earth (Colossians 3:1-2).