Isaiah 50: 4c-9aJames 2:14-18Mark 8: 27-35
A favorite pastime of mine is light reading. I usually spend about an hour a day devoted to reading what is known as historical fiction. Doing so puts me in contact with different authors with different styles. Most of these are enjoyable and creative. Particularly are they creative in presenting their story when the outcome in history is already known.
Such creativity, I believe, can be found in the Gospel of St. Mark which we have been reading and hearing over recent months. We have now reached the mid-point of that Gospel. The first half of the Gospel was devoted to introducing Jesus in different ways. Now we hear him ask his close followers who the people say that he is. For the most part, his followers tell him that he is identified with one of the prophets who are a part of their history. Peter, however, steps up and boldly states: “You are the Christ.” By saying this Peter identifies Jesus with the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Promised One, who had been anticipated in their history.
But Peter quickly falls from the favorable status of his declaration. Jesus make clear that he is not a warrior messiah, a political messiah, one who would free the Jews from the occupation of the Romans. In fact, what he declares is very much the opposite. He is to be a suffering Messiah following in the imagery of that passage from Isaiah the prophet that we have heard today. Peter is actually rebuked for not accepting this. He is told not to be a “tempter,” a “Satan,” He is told “get behind me.” He is to follow where Jesus would lead – to Calvary. Peter is told this, as we are told this. We are to follow Jesus, to be one with Christ. Suffering, taking up the cross is to be embraced. It is a fundamental part of being a disciple, an active believer in Christ.
Popular preaching that is often heard makes an association between sin and suffering. It also associates holiness with good fortune. Often the lament is heard: Why am I suffering in this way or that when I try so hard to live a good life? Listen closely to what Jesus says. Take up your cross and follow me. This is not to be done in a sense of self-pity, of “woe is me,” looking for someone to feel sorry for me. Rather, it is in this manner that Christ gives of himself in his betrayal, condemnation and execution. He does this so that the totality of God’s love for mankind is demonstrated. And it is this way, in taking up our cross, that we participate in making this love and care known.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Those who believe in the Son, who join themselves with him, who carry the cross with him, will also share in his resurrection. They will have eternal life. Taking up the cross makes us one with him in the revelation of Divine Love for mankind.
Selfishness and greed are so contrary to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Selfishness and greed is so contrary to what is revealed to us about God. Egotistical self-centeredness, which is selfishness and greed, and which is shown in so many ways by lying, dishonesty, prejudice, false judgement, manipulation, abusiveness and so on, are so contrary to what we are called to be, what we are called to do, as followers of Jesus Christ. Our baptismal; call is to show fort hand to reveal Godliness. This is to be done, not just in words as St. James tells us today, but in good works, in the way we live. It is this “taking up of the cross” that we demonstrate our knowledge and our commitment to our good and gracious God.