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Ordinary Time 24 (B)
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Readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Isaiah 50, 5-9

  • The Lord God opens my ear.  I hear part of a ‘Servant of the Lord’ oracle.  And what exactly do I hear there?  Contention, violent opposition and self-defense, for the most part.
  • I have not rebelled, have not turned back (like the others?).  I can be forgiven for humming the revival song verse “No turning back, no turning back!”  Let me read as if I am taking an unpopular stand, as if some people (maybe those I considered friends) are ready to work me over.  Let me stand proud as I read; otherwise I do a disservice to the prophet.
  • My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.  I will think of the times that I have been misunderstood, when my family, my interest group or my church has been maligned.  And be careful to pronounce ‘buffets’ with the taste of brass knuckles in my voice.  This reading is not about diet-challenged people or billionaire investors, but about the little people, the obedient servants of God.
  • The Lord God is my help.  I say it twice, the second time with a conviction based on proof.  He is near who upholds my right.  The sense is: I am not alone, I am vindicated.  We are in the place in which everyone becomes presente, where the darkest classified secrets are exposed to the light of day.
  • Finally, we have no reason to fear.  Who disputes my right?  Let that man confront me.  This is not a time to retreat but to stand our ground.
  • Climax: The Lord God is my help becomes a rallying cry for Jews and Christians.  Time stands still as we shout it.  If all that my listeners remember from the reading is that refrain, then I should be satisfied.
  • Message for our assembly: If the Lord is with us, we can sustain anything that our enemy wants to hurl against us.  Reputation, privilege, standing, favor – trinkets that the world seeks anxiously – what are these in the eyes of God?  Do we defend our brothers and sisters when they take their stand for life, justice and peace?
  • My challenge is to pray while I rehearse.   The first half of the passage connects closely with today’s Gospel, with the confession of Christ and the way of the cross.  If I read as someone who knows what such a confession entails for Christians, I may help to sharpen our proclamation of the word.

 

2. James 2, 14-18

  • Here comes one of the classic expressions of the Christian life: that faith, without works, is dead.  This passage would make an excellent homily today.
  • What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  I can make sure that my listeners understand the reading correctly, by emphasizing ‘What good.’  The sentence itself turns religion into materalism, where we chalk up points and get a ticket to heaven.  That is not the faith I want to convey today.  I need to connect this general statement with the example that follows. 
  • If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food.  They live in my city, closer to our parish than I realize.  Go in peace, keep warm and eat well.  I will say it warmly and with good will, the way most of the congregation would, as they might at the end of mass when they greet each other, while they miss the point entirely.
  • What good is it?  The apostle confronts his readers twice.  Am I convinced too that good will is meaningless unless it relieves the suffering?  Only now, in the light of this thoughtless behavior, can I make the apostle’s famous conclusion.
  • Here comes another straw man.  You have faith and I have works.  I will exploit the example to the full, because it is well chosen.  And, like a persuasive attorney, I will drive my point home.  Note my interpretation of the text.  Demonstrate your “faith” and I will demonstrate my faith.  The word ‘demonstrate’ could be spoken like ‘prove.’
  • Climax: Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  In other words, we have to prove our faith by the way we live our lives.
  • The message for our assembly: In a similar way our worship has to carry over into our lives and change them, or it is an empty act.  The Bible testifies to this over and over.
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out all the nuance, all the meaning that the apostle intended in his challenge to the churches of the Dispersion.

 

Gospel. Mark 8, 27-35

  • Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  It begins quietly, along the frontier far from the centers of Judaic influence.  Along the way he asked his disciples.  It begins as an innocent question.  Jesus depends on his disciples to report the general sentiment of the people.
  • But who do you say that I am?  I suddenly hear a question about faith and commitment, the kind I might hear about a future president.  These disciples have been following him for so long.  What do they really think about this man? 
  • Peter said to him in reply, You are the Christ.  Then he warned them.  Jesus knew how dangerous it was to say that, and he meant to protect them.
  • He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly.  If it took a long time for Jesus to connect the dots, imagine his disciples … and imagine us today.  The Lord suffer?  My listeners have learned in their classes that Jesus has been there and done that, and received the false impression that it is behind him.  If I believe that, it would make my reading today empty and devoid of meaning.  But I don’t believe that.  And my reading will have just enough of a sharp edge to remind my listeners that profound faith will have consequences for disciples.
  • He turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter.  We all need to hear the rebuke because we can so easily skip over the hardships to the happy ending.  They didn’t accept the need for suffering.  They, and we also, need to think as God does.  Then we will understand why we need to lose our life for his sake and the sake of the gospel.
  • Climax: In this combined passage, Mark emphasizes not Peter’s confession but the consequences of his confession.  Whoever wishes to come after me. 
  • Message for our assembly: Mark’s statement echoes today’s epistle.  It is not what we say but what we do.
  • I will challenge myself: To tie the parts of this long passage together, so that we all see that confession of Christ must lead to a deeper following of Christ.

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