Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The 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 sections in Trito-Isaiah — a collection of oracles by unknown prophets, in the years immediately after the return from Babylon, which constitute the last several chapters of the Book of Isaiah.
These sections together are called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Poetic and expressive, they figure in the liturgies of Holy Week and Good Friday because Christians historically have applied them to Christ, the Lamb of God.
Who was in the mind of the author of Trito-Isaiah as these songs were written? Was the author thinking of himself? Was he thinking of another loyal and devoted follower of the covenant who faced many difficulties? Was he thinking collectively of the Chosen People?
In any case, the picture of the servant is complete. 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, the Church this weekend gives us a passage from the Epistle of James. At the time of the Reformation, the differing opinions regarding texts such as this reading literally caused wars. It affirms the classic Roman Catholic interpretation of Revelation. God gives us the healing and empowering grace so that we can believe.
However, we 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 replicate Christ.
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 has been the scene of much violence in the past 30 years. In general, it is the region now called the Golan Heights, territory claimed by Syria but taken militarily by Israel about 40 years ago. It is part of the modern, turbulent Middle East, although the overall conflict in Syria recently has eclipsed strife in the Golan. At the origin of the Jordan River, however, it is picturesque and placid.
Such was it at the time of the Lord. Jesus questions the Apostles about His identity. They respond by reporting the various answers people put forward as to the Lord’s identity. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus bluntly asks the Apostles about their thoughts about the Master. Note that Peter speaks for the group. Also note Peter’s firm answer: “You are the Messiah!”
Jesus then gives the Twelve a special lesson. It is one of many occasions within the New Testament in which the Apostles appear as special students. They heard from Jesus lessons not given to the rank and file. They were special.
When Peter interjects his own, human thinking into the discussion, Jesus reprimands him. The Lord’s message is divine. Then Jesus tells the crowd that discipleship means carrying personal crosses. To follow Christ means the willingness to sacrifice everything, even earthly life itself.
Living the Christian life by acts of genuine love and deep faith, all in reflection of Jesus, always has been challenging. Certainly the martyrs, from those who died in ancient Rome to those dying today, know very well this aspect of discipleship.
Blessedly, Americans do not face this test of discipleship, but, they face the mighty attacks to the Gospel from our culture. Therefore, we too must sacrifice and be strong if we wish to follow the Lord.
However the challenges come, overcoming opposition and being loyal to Christ results in peace in this life and joy in the life eternal.
Our example is Jesus, the crucified, the risen, so beautifully depicted as the suffering servant. His story is of victory, not defeat; life, not death.
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