Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Scandal of the Cross

(24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

Today we arrive at Mark the Evangelist’s account of St. Peter’s great confession: “You are the Christ,” the basic and fundamental confession of faith of Christianity. Peter’s confession, which is recorded by the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well, is important for us on many levels. First of all, as we know from St. Matthew’s version, Peter’s faith is the Rock on which Jesus builds his Church, and this faith is kept for us in an unbroken handing-on, a “tradition” down to St. Peter’s successor in our own day, our Holy Father Benedict XVI.

Along with that, Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ,” is important for us on a personal level. We’ve all had that moment or moments of the interior realization of faith, of confession that Jesus is the Christ, or else we wouldn’t be here at Sunday Mass. And our confession of faith has consequences that are not easy, as Peter learns the hard way.

As soon as Peter expresses his faith that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus goes on to tell him what this means: that the Christ will be rejected and killed, but will rise on the third day. Peter is scandalized; he is offended. To be the Christ is to be a great person, indeed the greatest of people; he should be like the powerful of this world who sit and dispense benefits on their friends and trouble on their enemies. That’s what the Christ should be like, Peter thinks, perhaps. Jesus regards this as a temptation, and rebukes Peter in turn, identifying him with the tempter himself, Satan. “Get behind me…you are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.”

This is the scandal of the Cross, and it is the heart of Christianity. In Jesus the almightiness and the power of God are revealed not in a lording over the world or a need to control, but in a perfect self-sacrifice. Our God is not a god who sits above us like a worldly ruler, doing good for his friends and condemning his enemies. No, our God is a god who places himself below us as a “suffering servant,” offering salvation and grace to all, deserving or not, grateful or not, good and bad.

As if this isn’t hard enough to swallow, Jesus goes on to say that if we wish to follow him, the Cross is our destiny as well. So when we have the realization, the grace of making the confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, we know that the Cross awaits us. “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself.” That goes against everything the world teaches. For the world teaches us to take care of ourselves, to get for ourselves what we need and want, and to protect our security once we have it.

Where has the worldly doctrine of self-service gotten us? What has it done to the world? Well, the evidence is all around us. The world teaches us to seek comfort, pleasure, convenience, wealth, and security, but it is a cult of values that do not exist, and it has left us with a world plagued by divisions and injustice. It is has left the conscience of the public so seared and confused that we can even entertain the question of killing our unborn children or of destroying God’s earth in the name of our extravagant and indulgent lifestyles, for example.

But we must not be discouraged, for Jesus has demonstrated for us the way that this world can leave this selfish self-destruction behind and find salvation instead. We are to follow him by taking up the Cross, by imitating him as suffering servant, as the self-emptying and self-sacrificing savior. If we care about the world and its well-being—as God does so passionately as to turn over his own Son into our violent hands—may we let go of our cult of comfort, convenience, and security, forget about ourselves and offer ourselves in sacrifice for each other. Anybody who has ever done direct service to the poor, cared for their own or someone else’s child, or even prayed for a friend knows that self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ is the path to true freedom and happiness. Let us follow that joy, for it is the taste of the Passion and passionate Love with which God longs to save the world through the Christ.


4narnia said...

thanks for your great homily, Fr. C! PEACE ~tara t~

4narnia said...

hi again, Fr. C! i just wanted to say how much i enjoyed your inspirational homily and was glad to hear it in person again this weekend. i can especially relate to what you say in the last paragraph of your homily where you say: "We are to follow Him by taking up the Cross, by imitating Him as suffering servant, as the self-emptying and self-sacrificing savior." i know that i am happiest and most at peace when i serve in various ways - as an altar server; a childcare provider for three children after they come home from school each weekday afternoon; sometimes caring for my own nieces and nephews; giving juice and a snack to others at blood drives after they, too, have self-sacrificed in donating blood to save lives; giving juice or water to friars who come to celebrate Sunday Mass, being a good listener; etc... it's true that these kind of things go against everything the world teaches and i'm often criticized by people in my own family. today was the first day of teaching second grade religion class at St. Theresa's and, at one point during the course of the hour and a half session we were talking about ways we could show or tell others about God. i was amazed to hear (from the mouth of a seven-year old girl) that "we sometimes have to make sacrifices because Jesus made a sacrifice for us by giving His life for us." PEACE! ~tara t~

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

There was a man who lived in our town more than a century ago. He was the backbone of the town during its early years. He was rich, but he lived in a one-room cabin, which still stands today. Rather than buy things and make a comfortable living for himself, he used it to help out all the people who worked for him and apparently even those who did not work for him. Our priest likes to say that "he lived simply so that others might simply live." Were everyone to do the same, what a grand world this would be!

Brother Charles said...

Hey Tara...I love it when little ones have such clarity like that!