In today’s reading for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B we hear three different ways of thinking about discipleship.
The first comes from the third of four servant servant oracles in the Book of Isaiah. The suffering servant is being persecuted for their faith. As they as persecuted the servant says, “I have my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my bear; my face I did not shield.“
In the United States we are not likely to face physical persecution. That does not mean it does not happen in other countries. It does. People are still being martyred today. Others are being denied the freedom to practice their faith. Let us offer our prayers for them. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by religious extremists. I stress extremists because many Muslims seek peaceful living.
While we are not likely to be physically persecuted in our country, that does not mean we have the freedom of faith that we once had. Our culture is losing its Christian foundation (For more on the change in culture see my previous article “We Need to See as God Sees”). We are not persecuted but at times we are mocked for our beliefs. What are we to do? We must remember the words of the suffering servant, “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?” We must not give in. We must not become silent. Paul reminds us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18). If we accept our suffering, there are better things to come.
We face a battle against evil, for as the psalmist says, “the snares of the netherworld seized upon me.” (For more on the battle against evil see my articles “Does Evil Exist?”, “The People of the Lie”, and “Our Weapons Against Evil” based on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020). We may face resistance. We may face suffering but, as Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.“
In doing so, we witness to our faith. In doing so, we show our faith through the works we do. Our works do not save us for one can do some good works without faith. We are saved by faith but our works serve as testimony to our faith. This is the second way of thinking about discipleship. James reminds us that it is not enough to say, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” unless “give them the necessities of the body.“
The third way our readings invite to think about discipleship comes in the form of a question from Jesus. He begins by asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” Then, Jesus continues, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter is the one who answers, “You are the Christ.” Peter answers correctly but what does it mean to say Jesus is the Christ? Jesus provides the answer when He says, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
Peter is shocked by this. How could this happen to the Messiah? Because it is God’s plan! Peter goes on to rebuke Jesus. How can Peter rebuke Jesus who he just called the Christ? If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, then we must stop thinking as human beings do and ask for the grace to think as God thinks.
Who do you say that Jesus is?