September 11, 2015

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe last and third section of the Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for this weekend in Ordinary Time.

This passage is one of several similar passages in this section of Isaiah. Together they are called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Poetic and expressive, they figure in the liturgies of Holy Week because Christians historically have applied them to Christ, the Lamb of God.

Who was in the mind of the author of this section of Isaiah as these songs were written? Was it the author? Was it another loyal and devoted follower of God who faced many difficulties? Was it the Chosen People, the servant being a collective symbol for them?

The answer is unknown, but the picture is vivid. The servant is steadfast. Hardships and obstacles abound in the servant’s path to fidelity, but God unfailingly provides strength and guidance.

Assured of God’s help and resolute in faith, the servant is undaunted in obeying God.

For its second reading this weekend, the Church gives us a passage from the Epistle of St. James. This reading affirms the classic Catholic understanding of the relationship of faith and works. God gives us the healing and empowering grace so that we can believe. Thus, God reveals to us the way to salvation and the purpose of life.

We still must ratify our belief in our worthy Christian conduct. It is not a question simply of following rules and regulations. Rather, it is to conduct ourselves so that in everything we show forth Christ to the world.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

In this story, Jesus and the Apostles have gone to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This region is often in the news even today, and it has been the scene of much violence in the past 40 years. In general, it is the region now called the Golan Heights, territory claimed by modern Syria but taken militarily by Israel almost 50 years ago. The Israeli presence there is still disputed.

At the origin of the Jordan River, it is picturesque and placid.

Such was the setting for this powerfully revelatory reading. Jesus questions the Apostles. His identity is the issue. They respond by reporting the various proposals people put forward as to the Lord’s identity. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets” (Mk 8:28).

Then Jesus bluntly asks the Apostles about their thoughts as to his identity. Peter significantly speaks for the group, and gives a firm answer: “You are the Messiah!” (Mk 8:29).

Jesus then gives the Twelve a special lesson, one of many occasions within the New Testament in which the Apostles appear as special students. They heard lessons from Jesus that he did not give to the rank and file. They were special. They were to be commissioned as his representatives, so Jesus prepared them.

When Peter interjects his own human thinking into the discussion, Jesus reprimands him.

Then Jesus tells the crowd that discipleship means carrying personal crosses. It is frank and somber. Following Christ then, and now, means the willingness to sacrifice.

Reflection

Living the Christian life by active acts of love and faith, all in reflection of Jesus, has always been challenging. Certainly the martyrs, from those who died in ancient Rome to those dying today in Iraq and Syria, know very well this aspect of discipleship.

Blessedly, Americans do not face this test of discipleship, but they daily face the mighty attacks on the Gospel by the world, the flesh and the devil. We, too, must sacrifice to follow the Lord.

Although challenges come, overcoming temptation and being loyal to Christ results in peace in this life and joy in the life eternal.

Our example is the crucified and risen Jesus, so beautifully depicted as the Suffering Servant. His story is of victory, not defeat, life not death. †

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