Pick Up Your Cross; Follow Christ; Serve Others

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 12

Jesus modeled for us the way to serve God and others.
Jesus modeled for us the way to serve God and others. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Sept. 12, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Mass Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35.

The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Year B remind us of our call to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ in our pursuit of holiness and our complete dependence on God for the grace to do so. We see this call most clearly at the conclusion of the Gospel (Mark 8:27-35), when Jesus tells his followers that in order to come after him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. 

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. For Jesus says, “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

The beginning of the Gospel gives us an example of how to live this call. When Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, St. Peter immediately responds that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior. In that moment, Peter is faithful and open to God’s grace. Yet, a few lines later in the Gospel, Peter loses sight of this faith, fearing the suffering Jesus predicts for himself. Peter does not embrace this suffering as a part of the life of faith — and Jesus corrects him. 

When we think “as human beings,” as Peter does in the Gospel (Mark 8:33), we are not able to be open to the words in the second reading from James (2:14-18) reminding us to do good works as well as have faith. We cannot truly have faith if we are not willing to live out our faith. This means taking the time to help others, giving of ourselves. James writes specifically of addressing the bodily necessities of our brothers and sisters in Christ. 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.

The Responsorial Psalm (116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9) reminds us that the Lord will not abandon us when we lose our lives for his sake. When we live according to his will, we are walking “in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9). We should call out to him in our distress as we give of ourselves in service to others. We should trust in his grace to help us stay close to him.

The theme of dependence on God is also present in the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9a), which is from one of the passages in Isaiah known as the “Suffering Servant Songs.” The prophet gives us an image of a man following close to God while being persecuted by others. They pluck his beard and spit on him (Isaiah 50:6), but he stands firm in serving God. Jesus lived this passage out in his life, suffering and death. He modeled for us the way to serve God and others.

As we walk down the road of faith, we need to set our faces “like flint” (Isaiah 50:7). We will face persecutors in the world, who ridicule us for following our Catholic faith. Further, we will face temptations to doubt that God will be with us if we respond to the call to take up our cross. So, whatever your cross is, from entering every day into a hostile work environment, to praying for your fallen-away family, or sacrificing for your kids, you can find your life by losing yourself in love of others. The Lord has saved your soul from death (Psalm 116:8). Lean into his love.