FIRST READING Isaiah 50:5-9a
The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?
SECOND READING James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
GOSPEL Mark 8:27-35
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today we begin to hear more about the sufferings that the chosen one of God must undergo. It is Jesus Himself who is telling us as He told his early followers: I must suffer and die in order to do the will of God. This suffering and death of Jesus challenge us: can we really believe that Jesus is God?
The first reading today is again from the Prophet Isaiah. The test refers to the suffering servant, an image developed by this Prophet. Isaiah, even in the Old Testament, was able to understand that one person can accept suffering for the good of others. Isaiah could understand that a person could accept suffering and pain when that person is giving His life for others.
Even today there are many stories of people who go to rescue others and die in the attempt to save someone else. Always the challenge is for us: Am I willing to give up my own life so that others can live? This is a choice to choose the good of others over my own good.
The second reading is from the Letter of James. This particular passage is so strong about the different between words and deeds: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” It does no good at all to talk about faith if we never do the works of faith. Words by themselves are just words—and it takes actions to change the world.
The Gospel brings us back to the suffering of humans and the suffering of Jesus. It is Jesus Himself who tells His followers that He must suffer. We have this wonderful scene of Peter taking Jesus aside and rebuking Jesus for speaking like that. Even the closest followers of our Lord found it difficult to accept that Jesus would that suffer and die. We can think ahead to when Jesus does suffer and die—and all of His followers then doubt. It is the Resurrection that restores faith. For us who live so many centuries later it is important that we understand clearly that Jesus did die and He rose from the dead. The Resurrection is the heart of our faith but resurrection only comes after suffering and death.
Jesus makes clear in this Gospel passage from Saint Mark that we also must follow Him in suffering and death: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This is both an invitation and a challenge to us. So often we are happy to pray to Jesus and to worship Him—but to suffer and die as He did really stretches us. Faith is more comfortable—but less of a commitment—when it demands nothing of us.
This Sunday we are invited to look at our lives and to compare our lives with the life of Jesus. Are we ready to suffer and die for our faith? Can we follow Jesus? Can we accept His Church with all of its defects and its sins and sinful people? It is much easier to believe in Jesus than to believe in His Church. But if we don’t believe in the Church we no longer believe in the Incarnation and thus no longer really believe in Jesus as Lord, as God and Man, as our Savior.
Your brother in the Lord,
Thank you, Abbot Philip.