Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Isaiah 50.5-9A, Psalm 116.1-2, 2-3, 5-6, 8-9
James 2.14-18, Mark 8.27-35
What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Does it mean helping the less fortunate? Perhaps. As Christians we are called to help the poor and the lonely. Does it mean that we need to act nicely to people, be helpful and courteous to those around us? Maybe, since we are called to be meek and humble of heart. Does it mean that we need to go to Church on Sunday? Yes, I suppose. We need to give reverence where it is due.
To be brutally honest, however, we could be doing all of these things and not have the faintest idea of what it means to be His disciple.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means a complete surrender and sacrifice of our lives. We are called to allow God to open our ears so that we may hear, so that the promptings of the Holy Spirit may guide us throughout our daily lives. This is no easy task! After all, the Holy Spirit doesn’t exactly call us up on the phone or shoot us a text message! Nonetheless, He is there, and if we trust in Him, if we are truly disciples of the Lord, we will allow Him to take and lead us, to be our help and shield, no matter what or who may confront us in life. If we walk before the Lord, as the Psalm says, then our lives will become so much more than doing good works or even going to Church on Sunday (although that is a good, necessary, and essential part of being a Christian): by recognizing our place as children of the Father, He becomes our only light, and again as the Psalm says, He frees us from death and keeps our feet from stumbling. When we open our ears to hear, He in turn hears and guides us with His grace.
We see then that the first step is hearing and listening to God, and that is a big step! I know – I still struggle every day to hear the voice of the Lord, trying to overcome my own shortcomings and foibles. But next, we have to do something, for after all, St. James tells us that if our faith does not do anything, then it is dead. Does that mean that we must prove our mettle as good Catholics through the works that we do? Should I go around saying, “ooh, guess how many Hail Marys I said today” or should I devote all of my waking moments to some sort of project or program, no matter how good, to the exclusion of my prayer life, in order to somehow gain favor with God? Of course not! But the evidence for a true faith is found in its fruit, in the works that it produces, and likewise, works that are not supported by faith carry so much less weight.
So we open our ears to the Lord in order that we may hear, we allow our faith to bear fruit in its works, and then we take another step in our journey, and it is the most important step of all: we follow Christ Himself to the Cross, accepting and embracing the reality of the Paschal Mystery. We cannot be like Peter, rebuking Christ, because if you notice in the Gospel, it is when Peter protests the Cross that he is told by Jesus to “Get behind me, Satan!” Rather, we must “call upon the name of the Lord” and follow Him. We must deny ourselves and take up our own crosses, just as He took up His cross for us. This is not some sort of masochistic thought that we have, wanting to delight in the pain of the cross. No! We take up our crosses to share in His, to come to the reality of the Paschal Mystery and the love of the Trinity. By emptying ourselves, we leave room for Him, and can join Him at the heavenly banquet of which we are called to partake. This is true joy!
By offering ourselves, our joys, our sufferings, our triumphs, and our challenges, we make the sacrifice complete, not in a way that says His sacrifice was somehow incomplete, but rather in that way that St. Paul shows us we complete the sacrifice of Christ, namely by cooperating with His fully effective sacrifice by joining ourselves to Him, or as St. Thomas says, by patiently bearing the trials that God sends us, so as to become like Christ. (cf. Col. 1:24). Only then, through surrender to Him, can we realize the beauty and depth of the Paschal Mystery and come to join Him at His table.
It is from here, my friends, that those good works mentioned above develop into true fruit. Only after we become true disciples, that is by joining Him, taking up our cross and following Him, can we perform the good works to the fullest extent that we are called to perform them: to feed the hungry, relieve the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. Only by becoming true disciples and opening our ears to hear can we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, and pray for all people both living and dead. This is a life-long task that has been given to us, and we must strive daily to fulfill it, persevering, and trusting that even when we fail, like Peter did, He is with us.
In Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, do we find the true meaning of discipleship, good works, and life itself. To God be the glory.