Sunday Sermon for September 16, 2012, the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B
Readings: Is 50: 5-9a; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
In the Gospel reading today Jesus rebukes Peter for suggesting that the Lord should not have to suffer and die. In so doing, our Lord tells Peter that he is thinking, “not as God does, but as human beings do. Since we, like Peter, are all human, it is part of our nature to think as human beings do. However, it is St. Peter himself who tells us that we have become partakers in the divine nature; therefore we also have the capacity to think as God thinks.
This does not imply that we will know everything or that we will be able to think a priori as God does, but it means that with God’s grace we can see beyond the surface, beyond the natural level and begin to see things in a spiritual manner. A perfect example of this is found in the first reading where we hear about the servant of God reiterating his faith that God is his help, therefore, he shall not be disgraced or put to shame. This passage is one of the four Suffering Servant songs from Isaiah and have been understood, from well before the time of our Lord, to refer to the Messiah.
This being the case, if we consider the way Jesus was treated it was truly shameful and disgraceful. Therefore, if we look simply at the natural level we would be inclined to say that God did not fulfill what was promised. We see the same thing with the Prophets where God tells them that He will protect them and deliver them; all of them were martyred. Only when we see things from the spiritual point of view can we understand that Jesus was not put to shame nor was He disgraced. Furthermore, the Prophets were, indeed, protected and delivered from their enemies: by God’s grace they maintained their faith until the end and they were brought to eternal life.
As we look at our own selves we have to ask whether we see things in a human and worldly manner or in a divine and spiritual manner. What happens, for instance, when you are made to suffer? Do you get angry, sulk or get depressed? What happens when your prayers are not answered the way that you think they should be answered? Is God unfaithful, not all powerful or are His promises just not true?
I have often said that we are living in a time similar to that of the Prophet Elijah. During that time God did not allow His presence to be noticed by the people; He seemed silent, distant or non-existent. This was due to the infidelity of the people, but God allowed to to test the fidelity of those who were trying to be faithful. It might seem, in our human way of looking at things, that we would be more faithful and zealous if God would manifest Himself. But that would not really require much faith. It requires a lot of faith for us to remain faithful when no one seems to be on the other end of our cry for help.
Faith, in this case, is not just the belief that God exists; such a thing requires hardly any faith at all. God wants us to remain completely faithful to all that He has promised and revealed. St. James, in the second reading, gives us a good litmus test regarding our faith. Assuming that we are not doubting God’s existence in the midst of our trials, the point St. James makes is that we have to act on our faith: faith without works is dead. This does not mean just doing some nice things, it means doing good out of a motive of love for God and neighbor.
Many people do good things out of a selfish motive; one who is motivated by faith is not interested in selfish gain. St. James makes clear that if we do not have the works, we do not have the faith. This demonstrates that that we are often lacking in faith even when things are not too bad. Being motivated by faith is learning to think as God thinks. This may seem difficult, but when we realize that the divine response to thinking in a merely human way is to be rebuked, then we need to start learning to think as God does.
Think, outside of the situations of suffering or not having your prayers answered as you wanted, how the Saints dealt with things when they suffered or when things did not go their way. Think about what you can do differently to become more like the Saints. While it would not be popular or generally accepted, it would certainly be wonderful if we could think like God does and not the way human beings do.
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.