September 16, 2018 — Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes, the Sunday readings bring peace and consolation. Other times, they come as a swift kick in the pants. Today’s readings definitely fall in the latter category.
In the Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus begins to instruct the Apostles in what was ahead for Him – and for them if they wished to follow Him. “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.”
Peter’s immediate reaction to Jesus’s words probably resonate with many, if not all of us, when we are faced with the prospect of self-denial. He pulls Jesus aside to try to talk him out of this craziness. In Peter’s worldly way of thinking, Jesus should not have to suffer (and for that matter, neither should Peter!).
But rather than agreeing with him or trying to soften His words, Jesus seems to double down on His message, rebuking Peter with this strong language: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” It seems Jesus meant exactly what He said earlier. What’s more, He was inviting Peter, and all of us, to join him in this way of life that is costly and self-sacrificing.
Why? Isn’t Jesus all about love? Of course He is. He islove. And Jesus shows us by His example that real love requires toughness as much as tenderness. Real faith in Him is displayed through actions, not words.
The second reading, from the letter of St. James, helps us to know that our faith and our love are real and not mere words. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it: So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
This passage makes it clear that faith and love are not alive in us until they are demonstrated through works. “Works” of any kind will involve some self-denial. Getting up early to serve at the soup kitchen on my day off requires sacrifice. Helping out in the CCD program when I could be catching up on work emails costs me. Praying in front of the abortion clinic may get me jeered at by passers-by. Making a sacrificial gift each week to the offertory means I have to give up some dinners out or the newest tech product.
But when I do these costly works and embrace the self-denial they require, I have the joy of knowing my faith and love are real. I attain the peace of soul that only comes from imitating Jesus’ way of life. By laying down my life for Him, I gain a life that is really worth living.