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Sep 11, 2015 Written by  Fr. Paulino Twesigye Mondo

24th Sunday in ordinary time year B (13th September, 2015) Be the first to comment!

Theme:  Who do you say I am? 

Today the conditions for discipleship are little changed. Renunciation of the selectively romanticized aspects of the person of Jesus, an indiscriminate, whole-hearted commitment to the challenge of the cross, the counterculture quality of Christian living; all are part of the believer’s answer to Jesus’ question, who do you say I am? If you save your life, you lose it, Jesus tells his followers. How do we save our life, find our life and take possession of our life? We do it basically by finding our place in the world and in society. Everyone must do that to become a unique person. But that task is fraught with danger.

 

Because the world we must fit into is a crooked world. Some of it is not directly our fault. We live in a world that wastes more resources than majority of its people use for survival. We spend more on one fancy cup of coffee than the coffee picker earns in a week to keep his family alive. Our modern world is the arms merchant of the world. And just as the generosity of the powerful influences our personality, so do the sins of our world warp and diminish our personality. We then add to our distorted self by personal choices. We twist our bodies out of shape to fit passing fashions; we overspend to keep up; we cheat to attain worldly success; we consume to fill the vacuum we create as our real self shrinks to fit the tiny space allotted to us. If we are not careful, we trade our true self for an artificial, acceptable self.

First reading: Isaiah 50:4-9

When Peter, in answer to Jesus’ question, proclaimed, “You are the messiah!” Matthew 16:16, he did not have this text of Isaiah in mind. In fact, it is doubtful that any of his contemporaries looked to the suffering servant songs in an effort to define and formulate their messianic hopes. Composed by Isaiah who was himself a victim of the exile, the four songs  cf. Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, 52:13-53, were intended as a source of hope and consolation during the time of Israel’s national disgrace.

The songs were meant to help Israel find sense and purpose in the suffering that threatened to overwhelm it. The suffering servant songs brought fourth a portrait of one who did not in any way resemble the political, kingly and powerful warrior for whom the people had so long hoped and prayed. Rather, he appeared even less than a man; not a leader but as one whose rights had been stripped from him. He was not hailed as king but was beaten and disgraced. He was not the subject of songs of praise but the object of jokes and scorn.

In spite of his humiliation, the figure of the servant had been endowed with God’s own spirit and would, by his suffering, effect peace and healing for the people. In the end, he too would be vindicated cf. Isaiah 42:1-2. But this “man of sorrows” Isaiah 53:3 with buffeted face and plucked beard cf. Isaiah 50:5 was not the image that sprang to mind when Israel prayed for a deliverer. By enduring physical pain and abuse, by suffering human psychological and emotional persecution, the suffering servant would become not only the vehicle but an integral aspect of the message itself.  Through him Israel would be educated in the divine pedagogy of comfort and salvation.

With the passing of this text from Isaiah and the end of the exile, the characteristics and vocation of the servant were associated with a future figure of Jesus who did not fear to disappoint the popular messianic expectations by identifying himself and his mission with the sorrowful figure of humiliation and suffering. Like the suffering servant, Jesus’ life was one of radical obedience and conformity to God’s will. As believers, being obedient and doing God’s will has to be our life style.

Second reading: James 2:14-18

We begin by making it clear that James is not refuting the Pauline doctrine of salvation by faith. James geared his admonitions toward those who had misconstrued the thought of Paul, the result of which was an irregularity of the truth. Paul, like James, advocated a living and active faith which, because it had become integral to the believer’s life, was manifested in ethical and moral behavior. Antinomianism sprang from a misconception of faith as a matter of the mind alone, i.e., mere intellectual assent to specified doctrinal beliefs. From this basic tenet came the implication that, since such faith was sufficient unto itself, moral response and ethical behavior were of no real account.

Evidently, there were some people in James’ community whose faith had deteriorated into this shallow condition. These were those whose faith he pronounced ‘dead’. Cast in the style of the Stoic diatribe, James’ polemic against faith without works or without its external expression is powerful1 and movingly illustrated.  To wish a needy person well and then to neglect the real needs of that person, the fulfillment of which would contribute to the person’s well-being, this is like one who says ‘I believe’ and then does not live and act accordingly.

James’ example is not a situation found only in the first century. Many contemporary analogies spring to mind, e.g., to feel sorrow for the starving neighbour or decry the condition of visible tribalism and then to do nothing; such a faith is lifeless. In the words of “what good is it?” James 2:14, means that one who claims to have faith but does not corroborate that faith by living deeds has in fact no faith. And to those who accused him of an exaggerated emphasis on deeds, James countered that his works were the obedient and faith-filled implementation of God’s revealed will in every aspect of life and were therefore faith-in-action.

Interestingly and in close alignment with the thought of Matthew’s gospel, James warned that a lifeless or an unlived faith has no power to save from judgment James 2:14. Like Matthew, James believed that at the appearance of the Son of Man, judgment would be rendered, not on the basis of an intellectually perfect faith but on the basis of acts of faith filled love and kindness. Those who had encountered the naked, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the estranged and the imprisoned and had met their needs in faith and because of faith would receive the invitation, “Come... because in doing for these, you did it for me” Matthew 25:31-46. Such an active and vital faith will lead to eternal life, whereas the faith that has remained unspoken in deeds will lay fallow and lifeless forever.

Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

Integrally connected with all that preceded it as well as with all that would follow it, the episode at Caesarea Philippi was the theological turning point and literary center of Mark’s gospel. Up to that point, Jesus’ true identity had been shrouded in questions and confusion. Upon hearing him preach, the ordinary people knew he was exceptional and in possession of a unique authority, unlike any they had ever experienced, but they were unsure as to who Jesus really was cf. Mark 1:22, 27. His reputation spread throughout Galilee, but he was wrongly perceived as the mysterious figure of Elijah cf. Malachi 4:15 whom it was thought would herald the messiah. Others who had believed John to be messianic thought Jesus was the Baptizer revivified. Still others, recollecting the promise in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, thought Jesus to be the prophet like Moses.

The Pharisees, scribes and Herodians in Mark 3:6 witnessed Jesus’ works and heard his teaching and recognized in his radical ways a threat to their positions and prestige. In fear and resentment, these rejected him and plotted against him. Jesus’ own disciples were filled with ambivalence toward him, hoping for a political messiah and confused by the image he conveyed to the people. Their lack of understanding, fear and doubt sadly punctuated at various moments in Mark’s gospel see Mark 4:13, 40-41; and 6:37. Even Jesus’ own relatives did not perceive his true purpose or understand his method. Thinking him to be mad, they wanted to protect him from himself cf. Mark 3:21. Only the demons and evil spirits truly recognized Jesus and identified him: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” “I know who you are: the Holy One of God,” Mark 1:25, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Mark 5:7.

But at Caesarea Philippi, the confusion as to Jesus’ identity was brought to a climax in the confession of Peter: “You are the messiah!” Mark 8:29. Thereafter, Mark devoted his gospel to the elucidation of that profound statement. Indeed the confession of Peter is historical. To deny this would make the whole history of Christianity incomprehensible. It must be admitted, however, that when Peter declared, ‘You are the messiah,’ his idea of what that title implied was not consonant with Jesus’ conception of it.

This is obvious from today’s text which shows the apostle remonstrating with Jesus after Jesus had indicated that his messiahship was to be exercised in suffering and characterized by humiliation. Although the prediction of the passion cf. Mark 8:31-32 and those which would follow it in Mark 9:31 and 10:33-34 were certainly reworked by the evangelist in the light of the post-resurrection faith. No doubt Jesus did bring to his messiahship an unpopular and unattractive notion. Instead of the political leader and powerful king of David’s lineage for whom the people hoped, Jesus turned to the shocking, almost pitiable figure of the sixth century servant songs. To all who thought and who judged by human standards, Jesus’ ideas were iconoclastic!

In fact it is better that we stay alert against exaggerating the triumphant and the confessional aspect of ‘You are the messiah’ to the detriment of the very difficult challenge to discipleship that is also part of the text. To do so would be to deserve the same rebuke Peter received. Jesus’ Get out of my sight Satan/hypage opiso mou Satana was reminiscent of the temptation scene wherein the tempter and his ideas of a popular, powerful messiah were cast aside Matthew 4:10. That Jesus understood his role and his mission in terms of God’s standards cf. Mark 8: 33 is evident in Mark 8: 31 wherein he explained that the Son of Man had to suffer much.

Closely linked to the revelation of Jesus as messiah and as one who would suffer is the invitation to discipleship. By summoning the crowds in Mark 8: 34; Jesus made it clear that the call to follow in the shadow of the cross was not reserved for the Twelve but was a challenge extended to all believers. In Jesus’ day the self-denial required of a disciple entailed the relinquishing of preconceived messianic ideas and an acceptance of a suffering savior. In Mark’s community of the 60s that self-denial included recognition of the whole of Christology--not only the wonder-working Jesus of the ministry and the risen Lord but also the seemingly defeated Jesus of Calvary.

From the very beginning, starting with its founder, Christianity has warned us about the danger of saving our self. Tradition has devised a pattern of life, a discipline, a set of exercises that help us lose our worldly self. The first step is to avoid sin, which is the greatest destroyer of any self. That is because we are made to do good. Next, we separate our self not only from sin and from anything that might encourage us to sin. Then, we gain control of our choices by getting detached from all inordinate desires. According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the perfect person would be so indifferent to the lure of this world that he would not care if he were rich or poor, healthy or ill, a success or a failure. He would save his real self by losing his false self. But this self is not always attractive. We may save our soul at the cost of our senses. We may try to live like angels instead of humans.

Application

Today we need to watch out on the danger of becoming closed instead of open persons. At the same time we need not to reject the good earth that God created for our life. In protecting our self from the dangers of the world, we should not insulate our self from the opportunities of the world. That kind of living presumes that life is warfare. Yet we can lose your self in two ways: we can hand control of our self over to law, or to love. We may obey the law or love the lawgiver. We may choose to be a legal or a loving person. It’s not an even choice. If we choose the way of law, we forgo love; but if we choose to love, we will also obey the Lover’s wishes. Law can cover only law, but love fulfills every law.

What if we recognized our time on earth as a special gift we were given to create a personal self? While recognizing the dangers all over, what if we were courageous and daring? What if we paid more attention to the good instead of the bad things? What if we looked at everything as a gift rather than a temptation? Love is a risk, but without it, life is barren. Remember that: 1.The alleviation of suffering, especially for the innocent, is a sacred duty. 2. We need to be aware that it is far easier to talk about faith than to live it. 3. Lastly, part of Christian commitment is the daily evaluation and daily answering of Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am?  Hope you are able to respond responsibly since only this name is able to save us.

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1404 Last modified on Saturday, 12 September 2015 15:47

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Welcome to Our Lady of Africa Parish Mbuya. We are located near Bugolobi Township in Nakawa Division. It is about 5 kms from the City Centre of Kampala. Mbuya Catholic Parish is a vibrant and diverse community made up of people from different parts of Uganda. We welcome you warmly and joyfully.

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