FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
Isaiah 50:5-9a | Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 | James 2:14-18 | Mark 8:27-35
Do we want to imitate Jesus in what he does? The readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us to discern the value of suffering in Christian living, to do good works to affirm our faith, and to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ.
Jean, mother of two, ran into the bedroom when she heard Joseph, her seven-year-old son scream. She found Jane, his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl's grip and said comfortingly to the Joseph, "There, there, Jane didn't mean it. She doesn't know that it hurts." He nodded his acknowledgment, and Jean left the room. As she started down the hall Jane screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened? Joseph replied, "She knows now."
In the first reading, the prophet gives us an image of a man following close to God while being persecuted by others. His enemies beat him; they mocked him, they pulled his beard, and spit in his face. Still, He trusted that God would be his help. He expressed unshakable confidence that God will eventually prove him right and vindicate him. There is something in our fleshly human nature that just loves to get even. When we have been bullied, or injured, or mistreated, or attacked, our emotions well up inside of us and all we can think of is revenge or retaliation. It's clear in the Scriptures that the servant makes no resistance to his attackers. He does not meet violence with violence. He does not resist when he is beaten, when his beard is plucked, when he is struck and spat upon. A servant does not fight fire with fire. Patient endurance is not weakness but a sign of great inner strength. Insults and violence cannot change the inner reality of your person and the message of truth that you bear. Patient endurance of beatings and insults prepare ordinary people like you and me for an extraordinary destiny. Let us take consolation in the words of the Dominican virgin and penitent Rosa of Lima, "Apart from the Cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to Heaven."
Filipinos are setting up community pantries to aid those left most vulnerable by the pandemic. Stingy Stephen, a notorious miser was called on by the organizer of the community pantry. “Sir,” said the fund-raiser, “our records show that despite your wealth, you’ve never once given to our drive.” Stingy Stephen replied, “Do your records show that I have an elderly mother who was left penniless when my father died? “Do your records show that I have a disabled brother who is unable to work? Do your records show I have a widowed sister with ten children who can barely make ends meet?” “No, sir,” replied the embarrassed volunteer. “Our records don’t show those things.” “Well, I don’t give to any of them, so why should I give anything to you?”
In the Second reading, James writes specifically of addressing the bodily necessities of our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we come to know and fall more deeply in love with Christ, our challenge is to put our faith into action. We do this in helping the poor but also taking care of the needs of those who are primarily dependent on us and to whom we have obligations, such as children, parents, other relatives and members of our immediate community. In all of these situations, the cross is present. Can we find Jesus there? Can we follow him there? Loving the cross and carrying it with love is a key sign that we are in fact demonstrating our faith from our works. The lamp represents faith, then the oil represents works. James says, “faith without works is useless.” A lamp without oil is useless, too. Confessing faith to our Lord, while certainly good, is not sufficient for salvation. Our good works will affirm that our faith is real.
Few Jewels capture the eye quite like a perfect pearl. Know how the pearl came to be? In the beginning, it’s only a grain of sand. That tiny little irritant slips inside the tight seal of an oyster’s shell, and immediately causes discomfort. With no way to expel the grain of sand, with no way to ease the pain, the oyster coats the sand with a layer of the inner lining of its shell to make the sand smooth. This still does not ease the oyster's suffering. Again and again the oyster coats the sand, but all the attempts to get rid of the irritant have little effect. As far as an oyster is concerned, what we call a “pearl” is nothing more than great suffering. But one day the oyster is fished from the water and opened. The gem inside has amazing beauty and holds great value – all because the oyster had great suffering.
Jesus insists in today’s Gospel reading that those who want to follow Him, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross … For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake … will save it.” Among Jesus’ many teachings we find this, rather harsh-sounding, invitation. Most of us like to avoid pain at all costs. Today countless false prophets are too willing to misguide the gullible faithful by preaching a gospel of prosperity that posits the enjoyment of material benefits while viewing poverty or hardships as a curse and lack of blessing from God. So the bigger your car, the more spiritual you are. They have a mistaken identity of the God they worship. They worship the god of prosperity and they call him Jesus. Or they say if you are a Christian you should not suffer. Again, they have a mistaken identity of the God they worship. Suffering is real, and Jesus went through it so will we. If our faith in God depends on over abundance of customers, job promotion or gains, we are most likely to get discouraged and turn our back on God when we experience loss, pain and suffering. If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. Jesus could have asked his followers to do positive confession to the unbounded, limitless, overflowing abundance of God’s solar system, galaxies and universe and be truly rich, but Jesus simply did not, preferring instead to be dependent on God and teaching his followers to do the same. Suffering in God’s plan is always for a purpose. Saint John Paul the Great taught, "Every man has his own share in the Redemption." The frustrations, pains, and hardships that we encounter are not meaningless. Our ability to unite our suffering with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes all the difference in this world and in the next. The gospel of prosperity is a contradiction to the cross. We are blessed with good things when we embrace the cross. We are gifted with everything we need when we are contented with the sufficient. We are rewarded in heaven if we seek to heal the wounds of Christ in the poor and the needy. Just as Christ is never without a cross, a genuine Christian is never without a cross. Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to see God’s Anointed in the crucified One, and then to follow him by laying down our own lives in the service of others. Notice, my dear sisters and brothers, that Jesus does not tell us to take up his cross, but that each of us must take up our own cross. We are all called to different crosses, unique to who we are. And the mystery deepens when we consider that by embracing this call to give of ourselves we will actually find ourselves as true imitators of Christ. I have a friend who in a time of this pandemic lost his job, a sizable fortune, and his beautiful home. To add to his sorrow, his wife left him for some one else; yet he tenaciously held to his faith – the only thing he had left. One day when he was out walking in search of a job, he stopped to watch some men who were doing stonework on a large church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. 'Where are you going to put that?' he asked. The workman said, 'Do you see that little opening up there in the belfry? Well, I AM SHAPING THIS STONE DOWN HERE SO THAT IT WILL FIT IN UP THERE.' Tears filled my friend's eyes as he walked away. Maybe in a small measure, this is what Jesus meant by “losing one’s life.” <enrique.ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum