Sunday Sermon for September 12, 2021, 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 our Lord asks His Apostles who they say He is.  Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ.  This is, of course, the correct answer, but then we hear about Peter rebuking Jesus for saying He would be rejected, killed, and would rise after three days.  Peter had faith that Jesus is the Christ, but that faith did not extend to the work the Christ needed to undertake.

In the second reading today St. James tells us that faith without works is dead.  When Jesus asked His Apostles this question about His identity, Peter had faith, but was not ready to act on that faith.  He took a huge risk by speaking up about who he believed Jesus was, but professing that faith was all he was able to do at the time.

We recall the end of St. John’s Gospel where Jesus tells St. Peter that the day would come when he would be able to love Jesus with the same kind of love with which Jesus loved Peter.  Peter would one day die for the faith he professed for the first time at Caesarea Philippi, but only after making numerous mission trips bringing his faith in Jesus to others.

We know from the Gospels about our Lord’s suffering.  It was foretold in a variety of passages in the Old Testament, including the passage we have in the first reading.  This passage from Isaiah 50 is the third of the “Suffering Servant Songs” in which the Prophet speaks about the sufferings of the Messiah.  Although many passages speak about the suffering the Messiah would need to undergo, there are also many passages that speak of the glory of the Messiah.  Being human, most Jewish people preferred to think of the Messiah in terms of His glory rather than His suffering. 

The glory of the Messiah will be revealed in the Second Coming, but for now the suffering Messiah is placed before us.  Every time we enter a church, the crucifix is front and center.  Every time we go to Mass, the sacrifice of Christ is offered.  We read about the Passion of our Lord, not only during Holy Week but, as we see in today’s reading, the Passion of our Lord placed before us regularly.  The reason for this, which St. Peter did not yet understand at Caesarea Philippi, is that we are saved only by the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ.

We have all read the story of the two disciples whom Jesus joins as they walk to Emmaus.  Jesus tells the disciples that it was necessary for the Messiah to undergo His suffering.  It was not just something that happened; it was not merely something that was unjust.  It was necessary!  We would not be redeemed or saved if Jesus did not take up His cross.

We all know this very well, but it is the next step we need to consider.  We know the work of the Christ is accomplished through His suffering.  So, our belief in Jesus as the Christ is faith in One Who suffered, died, and rose, as He told us in the Gospel.  Now, as St. James tells us, faith without works is dead, so we need to put this faith into practice.  At the end of the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us how we are to do this.

Immediately after rebuking St. Peter for failing to understand things spiritually, Jesus tells the large crowd that if they want to follow Him they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.  If we believe Jesus is the Christ and we are His members through baptism, we have the privilege of participating in both His nature and His redemptive work.

To see participation in the suffering of Christ as a privilege requires thinking as God does, not as human beings do.  In other words, we can only do this by the grace of God that is expressed through faith and charity.  Faith allows us to recognize the suffering we endure as a gift from God and as a participation in the suffering of Jesus.  Charity allows us to unite that suffering with the suffering of our Lord for the conversion, redemption, and salvation of souls.

As mentioned above, this is not something that comes naturally to us; it is God’s grace.  Therefore, in the midst of our struggles, we must pray for the grace to recognize, as we read in the first reading, that God is near, He is our help, and we are not disgraced.  Instead, we are blessed and raised up.  It does not feel this way to us because it is not natural, it is supernatural; it is faith being expressed in charity. It is the way that leads to life.

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.

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