Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time B
September 12, 2021
Mark 8: 27-35
By Rev. John Tran
It is really all a question of understanding who Jesus is, isn’t it? That is what the gospel is trying to tell us. Jesus begins with asking, “Who do people say that I am?” Why is that important? It is important because only when we answer this question, can we even begin to follow him. If we think of Jesus as only a good moral leader, or someone who teaches well, or a person who cures people from illness, we are never going to understand what he expects us to be and do.
We get our first clue as to Jesus identity from Peter. After the other disciples tell Jesus that others are saying he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, Peter spurts out, “You are the Christ.” That means that Jesus is the One sent by God to lead the people of Israel. Put really, Peter has not worked out what being the Christ really means. He probably still thinks of the Christ as a political leader to drive out the Romans, with a little more power tacked on.
But Jesus then explains that being the Christ, being one similar to one of the prophets like Isiah in the first reading, is not a visibly victorious path. Rather the Christ must be the one who suffers, is rejected by the Jewish leaders, and killed by them. Peter misses the point that Jesus will also be raised from the dead three days later. Peter only hears that he will suffer and die; this does not fit into Peter’s idea of who the Christ is at all. Jesus tells Peter that he is wrong and if he thinks like that, he will be a stumbling block to understanding the Christ.
The point is that if you are to be victorious, you must, with Jesus, take up your Cross and follow him; only then will you save your life.
And, what in the world does it mean to take up our Cross? James in the second reading gives us an answer that is concrete. Taking up our Cross and following Jesus means putting our faith into action. It is somewhat easy to feel the warmth of Jesus in our prayer and certainly in receiving him in his Body and Blood.
It is quite another matter to be inconvenienced by the needs and necessities of others. It is especially difficult when “the other” does not seem to be going out of his or her
way to help herself or himself, or anyone else. A good word is not enough. Along with a good word there must be a good action to put a face on the Christ we represent. This is the meaning of Christ’s love. St. James is quite clear about this. It surely was not easy for Jesus to constantly be called on by others, some of whom would betray him; it will not be for us either, especially when that person may be so unattractive to us.
When Communist forces invaded Vietnam in the 1950s, Hien Pham, like many Vietnamese Christians, was arrested and jailed for his beliefs. After his release from prison, Pham made plans to escape Vietnam. He secretly began building a boat. Fifty-three fellow-Vietnamese made plans to escape with him. One day, four Vietcong soldiers came to Pham’s house and confronted him. They heard he was planning an escape. Was it true? Of course, Hien Pham lied to them. If he had told the truth, the Vietcong might have killed him and arrested the other fifty-three people. But after the soldiers left, Pham felt very uneasy. Had God really wanted him to lie? Didn’t he trust that God would provide for him under any circumstances? Even though it made no logical sense, Pham believed that God wanted him to tell the truth, even at the risk of his own life. So Hien Pham resolved that if the Vietcong soldiers returned, he would confess his escape plans. Hien Pham chose to bear a particular cross, the cross of honesty. He chose to sacrifice safety for faithfulness. He finished building his boat, and his friends made the final plans for their daring escape. To their horror, the Vietcong soldiers returned and demanded to know if the escape rumors were true. Hoping against hope, Hien Pham confessed his plans. Can you imagine his surprise when those four soldiers replied, “Take us with you!” That evening, Hien Pham, his fifty-three friends, and four Vietcong soldiers made a daring escape under cover of night in a homemade boat. But that’s not the end of the story! They sailed straight into a violent storm. Pham reports that they would have all been lost, if it hadn’t been for the expert sailing skills of, you guessed it, the four Vietcong soldiers. The escapees landed safely in Thailand. Eventually, Hien Pham emigrated to the United States, where he made a new life. He proved the truth of the last verse of today's gospel: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”
To live by taking up the Cross has never been easy for most Christians. We see this even in St. Augustine’s time. He once wrote: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men and women. That is what love looks like.”
Are we any different? During this ordinary time, sometimes called Kingdomtide, we are called every Sunday to consider how we are bringing Jesus’ Father’s kingdom into being. We do this by having the eyes to see misery and want in the many forms that cross our paths daily. This is our way to be redemptive - to love.
This is who Jesus is. The question today is who am I?