Sunday, Sept. 13, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm: 116:1-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
The true significance of Jesus’ life story is ultimately told by his actions, not his words.
The Gospel is a clear lesson in the way actions count more than words.
Jesus asks who people say he is. They have various answers — John the Baptist, Elijah, etc. Peter gets the right answer: He is the Christ.
Jesus immediately segues into a description of his passion: He will have to suffer and die. His title, the Christ, is not what is important about him; his action — the Passion — is. When Peter objects, Christ tells him, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus is not the great untouchable preacher that Peter wants him to be; he is the Suffering Servant, the one who comes to die for us. His words evoke what Isaiah said in our first reading: “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 is describing the Messiah’s characteristics in one of several “servant songs.” He describes the Messiah’s saving actions, not his preaching. God’s word is important as an active agent in the world. But the Suffering Servant’s patience and loyalty to God’s will are what characterize him most.
The same theme is born out in the second reading, in St. James’ explanation of faith and works. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” he asks. “Can that faith save him?”
If someone has no food or proper clothing, telling him, “Go in peace; keep warm; eat well,” does nothing. Only actually serving the person is an adequate response.
Following Christ is not a matter of just professing we believe in him, like Peter did in today’s Gospel; it is a matter of putting our whole lives on the line.
This is the message Pope Francis has been anxious to tell Catholics today. He demonstrates the Gospel not just in his homilies, but also in his witness of simplicity. And he asks us to do the same thing.
His visit later this month for the World Meeting of Families and the document on the Church’s synod on the family stress the same thing. “The witness of authentic Christian families is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelization of the family,” says the document (39).
The world doesn’t need more words about family values; it needs to see more families that joyfully live respect, compassion and fidelity to the Church.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” says Jesus in the Gospel.
“I will demonstrate my faith to you with my works,” says James.
This is exactly what the Suffering Servant does and what Christ says he will do — and what he asks of each of us.
Our lives should play out like a silent movie that others only need to see to know that we have the joy of authentic faith.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April,
his wife and in-house theologian and consultant,
and their children.