(James Tissot: Jesus rebukes Peter)
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself . . ."
The word for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091618.cfm
Mark 8: 27-35
There is no doubt that our American culture places a great emphasis on the importance of work. The evaluation of the economy is often made based upon how many jobs are available and what the unemployment rate is for that month. We hear it all the time. Working hard is a value that is much respected and we know that sometimes working too much can cause both health and personal problems as well. Yet, we often will place value upon another based upon the job they have and the amount of work they do. But, we are much more than our “work” or occupations.
Our second reading this Sunday from the very practical letter of James reminds us that: “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2: 18). So we see the essential connection between our faith in Jesus Christ and the concrete behaviors that flow from that faith. The work that James refers to, then, is not something that we are hired to perform. We are not motivated by our paycheck or the promise of advancement in a job. While all that is valuable, James speaks of Christian discipleship as the “works” of faith.
To offer a suffering person: “the necessities of the body” is not just a nice thought; it is a sign of our faith. As we say, talk is cheap, James implies. If our Christian faith is true, then it is lived out in concrete behaviors of self-sacrificing charity towards others, especially the suffering and poor. Just to say, “I believe in Jesus” is not enough if we go on living a life of luxury and greed. Christian discipleship demands a certain conversion and a particular sense of the real value of things and the potential for their use to do good for others.
In the Gospel, Jesus strongly reminds Peter that he must reconsider what his concept of the Messiah will be. Jesus told Peter: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly . . .” (Mk 8). Although Peter identified the truth about Jesus’ identity, “You are the Christ!” his thought was measured by the expectations of this world; by an earthly understanding of power, prestige and wealth. Thus, the cross and suffering have no place in such things if we measure by this life alone.
I find it very compelling that Peter rebuked Jesus! It was as if he was saying to Jesus: “Look, you’ve got to get over this suffering and rejection line. You’ll never be successful with that story so you need to speak more of power and prestige as the one who will save our people. That’s what we hope the Messiah will be for us.” In other words, he tried to give Jesus a real reality check; a dressing down as it were.
The result of that thinking is clear as Jesus turns the tables quite shockingly in response to Peter’s correction. He rebukes Peter even more pointedly by referring to him as “Satan” and demanded that he get out of his way so that his true mission would be fulfilled. Remember Jesus’ temptations in the desert by Satan. One was clearly an invitation to abandon his mission as the devil showed him “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.” He pledged that he would give Jesus all the power and glory he could see if only he would worship the evil one. A futile attempt at the least.
So, Peter’s rebuke, his bold correction or stumbling block as it were, was another temptation of the same, through Peter this time. There is no doubt that Satan watched Jesus very carefully throughout his public ministry and continued to make efforts at blocking his mission for the world. Once again, Jesus rebukes the devil with another wasted attempt.
But Jesus invited his disciples and us of course, to think about heavenly things. To see his mission, and our own, our good works in his name, as God intends. And because Jesus is the Christ (the anointed One), and we are his followers, faith in Jesus makes certain demands on us. That “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mk 8:34).
And there’s the rub. We can imagine Peter’s embarrassed and perplexed face as Jesus spoke those words, apparently quite forcefully – he “rebuked” Peter. In no uncertain terms, he wanted to strongly clarify his mission and purpose in coming to humanity: to die and to rise.
That the values we hold and assume are good – power, prestige, fame, fortune – are not always compatible with the Christian message and mission. Where is the cross in the life of those who pursue power for its own sake, or to lord it over others? For what the cross implies is self-sacrifice, obedience, humility, forgiveness, mercy, generosity and to think of the other before self.
So the works we do are an essential part of our faith. Yet, on the other side, it is more than just being nice to others. Doing good for humanity, while a great value, for a Christian is only half complete. The motivating force for doing good must be our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus speaks of his suffering and death; his submission to a force in which he lost his life. The ultimate victory was of course the resurrection for it broke the dark power of death.
So too, in imitation of our Lord, we seek charity towards others in order to bring about a greater good. To alleviate suffering and as Matthew tells us towards the end of his Gospel, the works of mercy on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty in what any way those needs come before us are done because Christ comes to us in that form. What we do for others we do for him.
So it is the sense of Jesus turning the values of this world upside down and inside out. Yet, if power if used wisely for the common good, and motivated by one’s Christian faith, then we are on the right track.
If prestige and position is used in order to make changes for the good and to relieve the suffering of others out of love for Christ, then we get it!
If wealth can be used to make things happen, to feed, clothe, educate, and heal out of imitation of Jesus’ own healing ministry, then the face of Christ is shown to the world.
We can’t all live as Mother Teresa or Francis of Assisi. Such super-Saints have been called by God for powerful reasons. Yet, we are all called to live lives that are not passive but active – as we are able according to our talent, resources, and situations. James articulates this truth in the second reading about putting our faith into action. We walk the talk as it were. Actions first and words second.
In this celebration of the holy Eucharist, we know that God is not passive and uninvolved in our lives. The stories and lessons of the Scriptures constantly reveal a God deeply involved in his creation and in particular inserted, through Jesus’ own coming, into human history.
As we break bread, we share in his very presence and life so that we may be intimately connected with him and energized by the Spirit to carry on his work.