Sunday, Sept. 16 (Year B, Cycle II), is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sept. 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Sept. 15 is Our Lady of Sorrows.
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 116:1-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Today’s readings come down to the identity of Christ and the identity of the Christian.
"Who do people say that I am?" Jesus asks his apostles in the Gospel. The apostles say, "John the Baptist."
"But who do you say that I am?" he asks.
With the words "You are the Christ," Peter says that Jesus is more than just a human prophet: He is the Son of the Living God.
He is not just the greatest possible speaker of God’s truth; he is an embodiment of what God is.
Once Peter has established who he is, Jesus reveals his mission. He "must suffer greatly and be rejected … and be killed, and rise after three days."
Jesus is the perfect image of God, and this phrase expresses who God is and what he does. God is the One Who Gives Himself Away. From the beginning, God made all things simply out of the excess of his love. He gives it all to us for free, and we do with it what we will.
Now, as he enters mankind, he does the same with himself. He gives himself to his creation. We can do with him as we will — even reject and kill him.
When Peter hears this, he makes a critical error. He starts to think of Christ as merely human and argues that his suffering and death are bad ideas. Jesus cuts him short: "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Human beings want self-preservation; God is self-gift. Human beings hide from suffering; God embraces it when it serves others.
Next, Jesus makes clear that he wants his people to do as he does: to treat their lives as a gift and hand them back to God, come what may.
He says, "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."
That is true freedom and real love. Someone who is able to see what is best — and choose it even when it hurts — is truly free.
We Christians are to become images of Love. One is to "demonstrat[e] his faith with works," according to St. James.
Each of us can become "free" by refusing to be ruled by anything except Christ. That means fulfilling our state in life, whatever it is, with energetic love.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.