Gospel Reflections

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 8:27-35

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Mary Ann Cook

Published: September 13, 2015

Read 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... Read More…

The first reading in today’s Liturgy of the Word is one of the Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 50: 5-9a). The Servant is understood sometimes as the whole people of God, sometimes as an individual called by God to deliver them/us. Today, the Servant speaks with profound faith and rock-firm trust from an experience of agonizing torture: “The Lord God is my help …He is near…. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”  Given the accounts of savage persecution, torture and death we find in our papers and on our screens each day, the reading brings to mind countless suffering victims across our world—political prisoners, people savagely persecuted for their faith, displaced families desperately seeking refuge, starving children, elderly people too sick and exhausted to flee anymore.

We can pray today’s response to the first reading (Psalm 116) on their behalf, begging God to give them some tangible sign, in the midst of their seemingly endless suffering, that he is indeed gracious, just, merciful, near. Can we do anything more? St. Julie Billiart would urge us to “carry them in our hearts,”  not just today, but throughout the coming week and long after.

Against the background of Isaiah’s text and Psalm 116, the second reading (James 2: 14-18), can be heard as a call to prayerful, sacrificial solidarity with people enduring unimaginable deprivation and suffering, and a call to action on their behalf: “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.”  What action can we take for people a world away? Perhaps a commitment to informed advocacy on their behalf? A visit to Pax Christi International’s web site for guidance? A donation to Catholic Relief Services? Or even, closer to home, a vicarious contribution to a local food pantry, made with a prayer for starving people everywhere?

Today’s Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35) gives us Jesus, “the Son of Man [who] must suffer greatly and be rejected … and be killed….” Peter, who seems to miss (or perhaps doubt) the final verb in Jesus’s series (“rise again”), wants none of it. Nor, if we are honest, do we. But Jesus’s rebuke is stern: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” No doubt, Satan is having a heyday among desperate refugees who see no end to their ordeal. “Where is God? How can God allow so much injustice, inhumanity, callous savagery? Doesn’t God care?” Archbishop Samir Nassar, who heads the Maronite diocese of Damascus, recently wrote about “children of Syria who have been waiting for peace for five years—and now they are revolting against a life of misery and abandonment. Discouraged by the closure of their schools, poverty and the lack of prospects, they sign up with armed groups and prove to be courageous fighters and stone-hearted executioners. They have been turned into fighting machines, trained for violence without fear or any particular goals.”

Again tomorrow, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we will hear of people whose patience is worn out by their journey in the desert with no food or water (Numbers 21: 4b-9). We’ll hear how they, unlike today’s Suffering Servant and Son of Man, “rebelled” and “complained against God; how God punished them, Moses interceded for them, and God healed them. And we’ll hear Jesus break open the meaning of it all: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3: 13-17). Only God – our suffering, compassionate, crucified God -- can bring healing and life out of seemingly pointless and endless suffering. Do we dare follow this God – deny ourselves, take up our cross? Whatever suffering, contradiction, disappointment, deprivation we are experiencing in our own lives at this time, let’s try today to join it to Christ’s being “lifted up,” as a sacrificial offering on behalf of the countless victims of violence and inhumanity in our world. May God sustain them – and us – with faith in his nearness and compassion.



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