24th week in Ordinary Time B

In the second reading, we hear St. James proclaim faith without works is dead.   It was Martin Luther’s least favorite epistle because it challenged his primary premise – faith alone can save you.  Perhaps, James was remembering this scene from the Gospel where the faith of Peter was not enough.

After surveying what others say about him, Jesus directly asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers immediately, “You are the Christ.”  Then Jesus explains what that entails, how the Son of Man must be rejected, handed over to the elders, priests and the scribes and be killed on a cross.  Newly emboldened by his statement of faith, Peter decides it is one of those over the shoulder moments we have with friends.  You know, when you think your friend has a crazy thought, you take them aside, put your arm over their shoulders and straighten them out.  Peter pulls Jesus away from the others and says, “You know, we can have a lot more fun with this Messiah thing than you planned.  You are the man.  We can skip the whole persecution and dying thing which sounds dangerous to you and to me.” And Jesus literally turns on him.  Before all the others, he says, “Get behind me, Satan.”  He uses the term Satan because traditionally the role of Satan is to be an obstacle to knowing God, to be a block to divine mercy.  And how did Peter fall so quickly from grace from the moment he declared Jesus was the Christ?  Because as Jesus tells him, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

If we want to avoid being a Satan, then we must learn to think as God does and not as human beings do.  The very fact that we can think like God is a marvel. We can rise above our animal nature and be carried away by the divine.   That we can literally have the mind of God.  What a gift!  But to think as God does we must live as Jesus lived.  Our lives must mirror our faith.

Jesus says we first must deny ourselves.  That is the first sign that we are no longer in the realm of human thinking.  We are not self-deniers.  We are accumulators and gatherers; we like stuff.  Everything we get is a buffer between us and any kind of deprivation.  But we are called to deny ourselves, to dance closer to the line of vulnerability.  Yet, as much as we desire security, we understand what it means to deny the self. When I have baptism class, I ask the couple if they have seen any good movies lately.  They look at me as if I am crazy.   I say, “Don’t you like movies?”  Of course we do, but we have a baby.  Think about this.   Once you marry someone you have eliminated billions of other people you could have married. And many of them are very attractive. But without self-denial, we know there is no moving forward.

Then Jesus claims we must take up our cross.  Ah, there is the rub, what Peter wanted to avoid.  We all want to avoid our crosses – our pain, the burdens of our lives.  We can distance ourselves from anything that might cause us to feel too deeply or to care too much so that we might stay safely above the fray.  But we must confront one hard fact – there is no love without sacrifice, there is no love without the cross.  For it is only in the midst of our vulnerability, the moment we surrender to a love that places the needs of the other above your own. The moment you see injustice and decide not to turn a blind out, but to speak to the truth, to be a voice to the voiceless.  The moment you admit that your pain might be my hurt and your injury might be my wound, is the moment I pick up my cross.  To think as God thinks is to say yes to all the pain and vulnerability that comes with love.  To take up your cross is to say yes to give our very best; to discover the Spirit which surges within us.

And finally, we must follow after Christ.  To choose love at every moment as he did.  To become engaged in the lives of others and to transform others by giving totally of one’s self.  If we make that choice every day, we can dare to call ourselves disciples.

I have had the privilege this week to be among the dying, the dead and those who loved them.  And when their lives are remembered and treasured, no one says they did a great job collecting stuff.  No one marvels about how they stayed aloof enough so that they problems of others never bothered them.  No one recalls with passion how they saved themselves from the pain and plight of others.

No, they say, wasn’t it amazing how completely they loved their families and how they gave everything they had to them.  They say what a god neighbor and the kind of friend who would do anything for you.  They say in times of need, no one was better, more courageous more giving.  They say how blessed we were to know them, pray with them, to be their wife, their child, their friend.  They are saying that they thought not as human beings do, but as God does.  They are saying they followed Jesus Christ. So may we all.