24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 (9)
September 16, 2018
Jesus had been doing miracles, curing people and driving out demons. He had also been preaching. Certainly, the miracles attracted crowds but what do the people think of Jesus beyond looking for miracles?
With this in mind, Jesus asked his disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that I am?” The words of the question are simple but its meaning goes much deeper. “They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”
While we know none of these answers are right, what is important is that the people were indeed talking about who Jesus is. Everything Jesus has done is meant to point people to know who he truly is.
If Jesus asked you today “who do you say that I am?,” how would you answer? Is Jesus just a wise man (prophet)? Do you seek Jesus as a miracle worker who can get rid of all your problems? Is He a teacher? Is He a moral authority?
Jesus went on to ask his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”
Of course, Peter is the one to respond and he gives the right answer, “You are the Christ.” Today we say “Jesus Christ” as if “Christ” was Jesus’ last name. It is not. It is a title. It means “messiah.” Peter realizes that Jesus is the one that the Jews have been waiting 1,000 years for.
Of course, we know that Jesus is indeed the messiah, the Christ they had been waiting for. What does it mean to call Jesus “the Christ”?
Peter held to the common Jewish expectation of the time that the messiah would become a great political king, get rid of the Romans, and restore the political kingdom of Israel. Jesus is the messiah but He did none of these things.
Yet this is what Peter expects. So, when Jesus begins to teach them about his coming Passion, that He “must suffer greatly…be rejected…and be killed,” it made no sense to Peter. In fact, it sounds impossible. Peter would not let this happen. He rebuked Jesus. How can he go from calling Jesus “the Christ” to rebuking him so quickly?
It’s because of Peter’s expectations. We have own expectations. Do our expectations of God keep us from really knowing God or are we open to allowing God to change what we think and what we expect?
A key component for many people today regarding whether they believe in God at all or what they expect centers on the question of suffering. Some people will do anything possible to escape suffering. I think some people might actually put more effort into getting rid of their suffering than it would take to accept the suffering and live through it.
It isn’t hard to imagine why Peter and the others can’t understand how or why the messiah would suffer. We might imagine that God would make it easy for the messiah.
They did not understand how the prophecies foretelling of a “suffering servant” applied to Jesus. Perhaps we could even say they didn’t want the suffering servant oracles to apply to a messiah. They based their hope on the relief of suffering.
Jesus does something different. He shows us a value in suffering. Why did Jesus come? It was not to set the Jews free from the Romans but rather to set us all free from our sins. Jesus came to bring us a new perspective.
Instead of seeking greatness and release from suffering, Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
To deny ourselves is to let go of our desire for selfish desire for wealth and power. It is to put others before ourselves. Jesus is the perfect example of this. He had nothing to gain for himself by becoming human. He became human to “take up his cross” so that our sins might be forgiven.
In doing so, Jesus showed us the way to the Father and calls us to take up our own crosses as witnesses to our faith in God. To trust in God requires us to let him shape us and be our motivation.
James speaks of faith and works. Many people have a misunderstanding that Catholics think our works alone can save us. That is not Catholic teaching. What our Catholic faith does teach us is that if we have true faith in Jesus, then in practicing that faith we will do works because of our faith.
How do you think your life is different because of your faith in Jesus? Does it change your view of suffering? Sometimes at the end of a day, I lie in my bed with the light on staring at the crucifix that hangs on the wall. I start “complaining” to God about the bad parts of my day. In doing so, I am complaining about my “sufferings.” As I stare at the crucifix complaining, I look at Jesus’ suffering on the cross and realize I have nothing (well maybe a little) to complain about.
Recognizing this leads me to begin to accept the suffering I face as part of the works I am to do to serve God. What works do your faith call you to do?