Answer the invitation to take up our cross and be a person for others

Tim Irwin

Living the Word / By Tim Irwin

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 12

Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2,3-4,5-6,8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

This Sunday’s Gospel gives us a lot to think about. It illustrates how the Evangelists shared the events of Jesus’s life in various ways in order to clarify the message. It also illustrates that people haven’t changed much in the way that they interpret Jesus’s message.

Sunday’s Gospel opens with a familiar story. On the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples reply citing John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Christ.” Virtually the same as told by Matthew. Unlike Matthew, Jesus warns them not to tell anyone about him. Seems odd. Isn’t the whole point of Jesus’s ministry to spread the word?

Mark wants to help us focus on the reality of Jesus, most fully revealed not in parables and miracles, but in his crucifixion. The crucifixion makes Jesus’s identity so obvious that even the Roman Centurion standing guard gets it. He exclaims at the moment of his death, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”

The idea that Jesus would pick up His cross was not well received by his disciples. “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.’” That hasn’t changed much. Have you seen the television commercials for Peter Popoff’s miracle water? Happy partakers testify to health and wealth benefits of drinking the miracle water. It seems to be saying that being a Christian is less about doing God’s will and more about getting whatever one might desire.

BLESSING AND INVITATION

Yes, God blesses everyone, but in the way that invites the blessed to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not the means to our ends. Rather, He is the means to his Father’s end and we, his disciples, are invited to join him. The way we do that is clearly spelled out in this Gospel. Jesus says, “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.”

We are called to forsake, or “crucify” our ego-centered self and live out of our other-centered self. It’s a struggle. It doesn’t happen automatically or in a grand once-and-for-all way. We have to work at it every day in countless ways. Perhaps, a friend needs a shoulder to cry on or a food pantry needs a donation. Once we decide to live out of conscience, the opportunities will find us.

In being there for others, we will have picked up the cross because we will have struggled to love the Father and others as Jesus loves them. In this way we will in some measure become our better more Christ-like self and help build the Kingdom of God.

We won’t always succeed, as St. Peter oft illustrates in the Gospels. But like St. Peter, we need to hang in there. We need to try to put others first. There are people in our parishes who understand this message and among them we will experience the love and support we need to become more other-centered, more Christ-like. We don’t have to go it alone.

This Sunday at Mass perhaps we might ask Jesus to help us answer the invitation that we have been given to take up our cross and be a person for others.

TIM IRWIN teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.

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