16 September 2018
Isaiah 50: 4 – 9
James 2: 14 – 18
Mark 8: 27 – 35
In a certain town a young girl came rushing home to her family and almost out of breath with excitement said that the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the local church had blood flowing from the heart. Before long many others had heard of this and soon the church was so full of curious people that others could not get in. The Sunday Masses were filled to overflowing. Then they discovered that a leak from the roof had fallen on the red paint of the heart of the statue and caused what seemed to be blood to flow. Once this became known the church emptied almost as quickly as it has filled up. The following Sunday the church was only a quarter full for each Mass!
Today’s gospel is important because it highlights the fact of how many people expect God to act. It seems that they are more comfortable with a God of signs and miracles because, after all, God is God, isn’t this true? A God who nearly always comes to us in very ordinary ways and is present to us in the events and people of our daily lives isn’t too exciting. Yet that is the way God chooses to reveal himself to us nearly all the time if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Today’s gospel incident is the Central Point of Mark’s gospel. It is the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. However, the apostles like the rest of the Jews were expecting a political figure, an all-conquering Messiah who would rid the Jews of their oppressors. But Jesus refused to bow to their expectations. Jesus reveals who God really is and what God is about, a gentle, non-violent, compassionate, suffering Messiah.
Just before this episode Jesus had healed a blind person. Jesus now asks the very important question ‘Who do people say I am? What have they been saying about me and how have you described me to them? What witness were you giving to them of me? In answer to Jesus’ question Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, replies ‘You are the Christ, that is the Messiah. Peter obviously feels really good about his reply and delighted when Jesus praises him. But as soon as Jesus talks about suffering greatly, being rejected and put to death, even though Jesus adds he will rise again from the dead after three days, Peter refuses to accept this. So Jesus says to him: ‘Get behind me ‘Satan’, that is, ‘do not be an obstacle’ in my way, which is what the word ‘Satan’ means. Included in that remark by Jesus is his desire to forgive Peter. He knows that Peter can take up his position again and be a true follower of Jesus. Jesus rejects the stance of Peter, not the person. He is saying that he still trusts Peter. At that time neither Peter nor the others could accept, let alone think that Jesus could suffer.
What is our image of God? Who is God, who is Jesus for me/us personally? We may prefer to have a God of bleeding statues or of extraordinary signs but Jesus is saying to us very clearly that this is not who God is. Jesus came first of all to reveal who God is and then to show us how to respond. Jesus as man learned this lesson the hard way. During his short public life people saw his miracles yet still rejected him.
He tells Peter very clearly that Jesus that God is a God of unconditional love for us and that all true love involves suffering, because love is more concerned with the other’s happiness than with one’s own. True discipleship is seen when we are faithful to God in times of suffering. Jesus led by example and his total love for each of us was shown by his terrible suffering and death on the cross. People got rid of Jesus. His demands to love were too much.
Who is Jesus for me personally? No matter what we like to think, Jesus reveals God as God is. So he is challenging us to go deep to the roots of our faith by making this faith truly personal. Jesus reveals to us that if we are to accept him as our Lord, we must accept his way of suffering, whenever it comes in our life. Following him involves commitment and determination. Not easy.
So when I see a woman pushing around her husband in a wheel chair because he is paralysed and she is faithful to him now in this difficult time of his life or see a man taking care of his wife who has Alzheimer’s disease or a family accepting and loving their son as he is dying of AIDs etc. etc. am I not seeing Jesus the Christ still in action in our world? Is not this what discipleship truly means and reveals to others who God is too whether they see and accept it or not. God is always with us to strengthen us and give us courage during these difficult times.
‘Lord, help us not to be seeking a God of the extraordinary but help us see you revealing yourself to us still in the goodness, the suffering of others in daily life situations. Where there is love, surely you are there. Amen.’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA