Sep 12, 2015

24th Sunday: Get your business done!

Is 50: 5-9A
Jas 2: 14-18
Mk 8: 27-35

(Sunday Readings: click on picture at right)

On a recent episode of “The Middle,” a very funny television sit-com about family life,  the television family decided the Church they  attended had grown too dull for them.  Though they respected the minister, they felt a more charismatic message was needed.  So, they searched around and through the recommendation of a neighbor they found themselves in what proved to be a welcoming and appealing Pastor and community. Their choir would clap hands, sway and sing to more upbeat Christian music. This brand of Christian worship gave them new perspective, at least for that particular Sunday. 

The Pastor’s sermon that Sunday ended with a challenge to all in the congregation: “Get your business done!”  He essentially implied that we all have a task to accomplish for the Lord so we had better decide what that was and “get our business done.” 

On returning home, the mother of the family, with a new found enthusiasm began to challenge her husband and three teenage children to “get their business done.”  The teenagers were frankly not sure what that meant and at first had little interest, the father couldn’t think of anything he had not done that needed such immediate attention, but the mother was determined to find out what her “business” would be and to get it done. 

We may laugh at such typical reaction but the underlying message was that we all have a task to do.   We all have some work for God that needs to be done and that only we can do it.  What is our Christian work? 

The scriptures this Sunday give us an indication about the responsibility that faith in Christ lays upon us. The “business” we have been given by God as those who walk in the footsteps of Christ Jesus is rooted in faith. Yet, that business is not something we have never heard before: Do good for others and carry your cross. However, as Christians, we are far more than social workers or good humanitarians.   

James, our second reading and a very practical book, 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. 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. How often have we been reminded by our Holy Father Pope Francis to never forget the poor and marginalized. Just to say, “I believe in Jesus” is not enough if we go on living a life of luxury and greed.   

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.

But Jesus invited his disciples and us of course, to think about heavenly things.  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.  Yet, the temptations of Satan earlier in Jesus' desert fasting and prayer, loom again in Peter's words: to revoke his heavenly mission in favor of an earthly kingdom.  Peter is not Satan but the temptations are real. 

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 the powerful, prestigious, famous, and wealthy? For what the cross implies is self-sacrifice, obedience, humility, forgiveness, mercy, generosity and to think of the other before self.

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. 

So, this is our business for the Lord.  Can you get it done?

Look upon us, O God,

Creator and ruler of all things,

and that we may feel the working of your mercy,

grant that we may serve you with all our heart. 

(Collect for Mass)