The Cross as the weapon in following Jesus

Lord Jesus, I thank you for the many crosses in my life. Help me and give me the grace to continue to walk your way faithfully.

Sep 11, 2021

                        Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr George Harrison

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9a;
James 2:14-18; Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

For many of us, our Catholic faith journey can be summed up in three ways, that is to Pray, Pay and Obey. We say some prayers, offer donations and faithfully obey all the teachings of the Church. One could be satisfied with these, claiming one’s following of Jesus is true and complete. However, they may not be sufficient when we look at the readings in today’s liturgy, which points to a crucial question by Jesus to his disciples — the way of discipleship. Jesus gives us three messages today.

Who do people say I am?
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah brings to us the song of the suffering servant of God, showing the freedom of the servant from those sufferings. This is a proclamation of the coming of Jesus some 700 years later, bringing freedom from foreign powers, liberation from paganism and the return to the right path of worship of the Jewish nation. This is considered an accomplishment in the coming of Jesus among us. You and I are waiting anxiously to see and touch Jesus Christ the Messiah, who brings us liberation from all the difficulties of life. It is Christ, the Anointed One, Who brings us healing grace. In Mark 8:27, Jesus asks Peter and the other disciples, “who do you say I am?” What would your response be?

Jesus is asking this question in Caesarea Philippi, historically a pagan area and the place where the temple Augusteum, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, is built. This place was used for pagan worship of the harvest god Pan during the time of Jesus and the power of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people needed freedom from this worship and wanted to return to the path of holiness. This would only prove possible through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus makes the first prediction of his passion here, “the Son of man is destined to suffer….” Mk 8:31. At this point, Peter and the disciples look lost.

True Identity of Jesus
This is only possible with the walk of faith, as the first witnessing church of Christ, says St James, the brother of Jesus. He says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”. This is where we need to see and hear words of encouragement, giving love and life to the people. The identity of Jesus as the “Christ”; “the anointed” one, clearly points towards the two glorious Old Testament kings David and Solomon through whom God saved His people. The messianic action of the “anointed” person will now continue in Jesus through his passion, death and resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us faith and builds up the body, the first church community of Christ (first century).

“Take up your cross and follow me”, says Jesus to Peter and his disciples. Jesus is offering himself in his passion, death and resurrection which is beyond Peter’s understanding. Peter is not willing to lose anything in Jesus. When Peter stopped Jesus, Jesus rebuked him saying “Get behind me Satan” (v.33), implying that Peter wasn’t walking the way of God and he had the wrong vision, purpose and way.

Which way? Peter’s profession of faith and the first prophecy of the passion of Christ both took place while on the way to Jerusalem. Note that the two healing miracles, i.e., those of the deaf man and the blind man, both pointed towards the presently blurred vision and understanding of Peter and others. They see and yet don’t see; they remain “blind” on the way. Power, position, prestige and benefits were the real obstacles for the “way” of Jesus. Peter and the disciples were all along with blurred vision along the way – the way of discipleship.

Do you still want to take this way of Jesus? If yes, then take up the cross and follow him. Jesus teaches us and his disciples today the path of victory from suffering, the way of the cross. You and I are challenged to continue discovering the identity of Jesus by carrying our daily crosses. As disciples of Jesus, especially during this pandemic, we are called to “walk the talk” in faith.

Jesus puts forward a different invitation — to deny oneself and follow him. It is hard to forget oneself and prefer others’ interest. St Augustine says, what is difficult in the command, love makes easy. We are lost because of the love of the self. We are found in self-denial. The cross is the only weapon given to us in following Jesus. Only slaves used to carry the cross because they belonged to a master. The cross we carry proclaims that we belong to Jesus, our master. It enables us to humble ourselves to following the Master.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for the many crosses in my life. Help me and give me the grace to continue to walk your way faithfully.

(Fr George Harrison is from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and is currently preparing for further studies)

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May peace be with you, your faith guides you.