Sunday Sermon for September 13, 2015, the Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Is 50:5-9a; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
Faith is a great gift and, given the times in which we live, it is more necessary than ever that we have our faith. However, in the second reading today St. James says that faith without works is dead. He then gives us the examples of caring for the bodily needs of others as evidence of one’s faith, e.g., feeding the poor or clothing the naked.
These needs are of obvious importance and they are not to be neglected, but if we look a bit further than that and ask in Whom we place our faith and what He did to meet our needs we find an answer that demonstrates a far greater charity than providing food and clothing to those in need. In the Gospel Jesus asks His Apostles who people say that He is. Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ. In St. Matthew’s account of this same episode, Peter also testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.
When our Lord came to earth, He found people who were starving for the Word of God, who needed to be clothed in grace, who longed for salvation. He came to a people whose debt was so large that all of the populace of earth combined could not even begin to repay it. In His goodness, Jesus redeemed us from all of these deficiencies.
The manner of that redemption, of course, was the Cross. He tells us in the Gospel that each of us must take up our own cross. When we think about it, feeding the poor and clothing the naked sounds so much easier. Doing these things is even rewarding for the giver, whereas, carrying the cross is not usually very popular among most people.
Thankfully there are some wonderful and generous people who are willing to care for the needs of the less fortunate. However, I have yet to see the sign up sheet for carrying the cross filled up with the names of those who desire to follow our Lord. Perhaps this is because it is not fun or pleasant to carry the cross; perhaps it is because it appears shameful in the estimation of others.
In the first reading we hear from the third of the four “Suffering Servant “ songs from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading we hear that the Servant of the Lord gave his back to those who beat him, gave his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, and did not turn his face from buffets and spitting. Regarding these atrocities that were inflicted upon an innocent man, we are told that they demonstrate that he did not rebel or turn back.
I do not think that most of us would consider steering away from harm or danger as a sign of rebellion or turn back from what was promised to the Lord. In fact, we would commonly consider such a thing to be a sign of wisdom whereas, sticking around to get beat and spat upon sounds like foolishness. The Servant says God is his help and, therefore, he is not disgraced or put to shame.
Perhaps this will help us to see things from a different perspective. We all know people who have had to suffer greatly. What happens when this occurs? Most people abandon them. Not only do they not want to (or are unable to) deal with the suffering of another, all too often it is that they do not want to be associated with such a person because of what others might think. Perhaps we think that suffering is a communicable disease and that if we allow ourselves to be in the company of such a person, that we might get infected by whatever is ailing them.
Probably the most common reason people do not want to be around someone who is suffering is because it is not fun. It is a perfect way to demonstrate our faith. It is not as obvious as giving someone food or clothing, but just being with someone in their torments can be a consolation to that person.
Again, think of our Lord. I think that most of us, if we had the chance, would find it a privilege to be at the foot of His Cross. This is due to the fact that we can look at the Cross from an objective and historical perspective. That is, we know the good that came from the Cross and we are, thereby, able to see the good in our Lord’s suffering. If we were there at the time, we probably would have run away like most of the others.
If you know someone who is suffering, consider our Lord’s Cross, then act on your faith by recognizing the privilege of being at the cross with that person.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.