A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
Here are three powerful sentences from this reading: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” “The Lord is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?’
Have you ever had the experience of God opening your ear or even your heart? Perhaps you had closed your heart to someone or to some truth, and you would not budge. But then something happened, and you had a change of heart that helped you to see another side of the person or the issue, and you moved on.
Did you ever feel rejected or even disgraced, but then someone came to your aid or your defense? Maybe God sent that person to you, because God is your help.
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” The line before this reads, “For he has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” This amazing insight was written hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus Christ who truly saves our souls from the ultimate death.
A reading from the Letter of James
Here is St. James with a strong statement about the age-old question about whether we are saved by faith or by good works. His answer is clear. We need both!
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister says he 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 him the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also, faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Our parishes have many excellent spiritual ministries, but they also have social ministries to help those who have material needs. But that does not let us “off the hook.” Each of us needs to respond to those we know who are in material need by providing them help or connecting them with someone or an organization that has more necessary resources. There are dozens of community-based organizations in our towns and counties that exist to help those with various kinds of problems. We need to become familiar with them or ask our parish social ministries directors to connect us.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark
For many centuries, the Jewish people believed in the coming of a messiah who would save his people and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place in the world. When the apostles first became followers of Jesus, who healed so many people in so many ways, they naturally saw him as that Messiah. But Jesus was a very different kind of Messiah, a suffering servant.
In the exchange reported in this reading, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” But Peter got it: “You are the Christ.” Jesus replied in a seemingly strange way: “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.” Obviously, this was not the kind of Messiah that his people were expecting and hoping for. What a disappointment! What a scandal!
Jesus wanted to keep all this a secret at the moment. He knew it was too much for them and certainly for the people to accept. Even Peter, who declared that Jesus was the Christ, did not understand the kind of Messiah Jesus was: “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.’”
Then Jesus said something even more shocking: “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.”
That’s it! The so-called Secret of Mark was out. Jesus was a very different kind of Messiah, not the person that people had been expecting. This Messiah would suffer and die horribly. And then, people were expected to believe that he would rise from the dead after three days. No wonder so many people did not believe. And yet, what Jesus was foretelling was actually better than what the people had expected, because it came with a promise of everlasting life in the presence of God. Jesus would conquer death not only for himself but for all who had faith in him.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.