The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
16 September 2018
At Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 50, 4-9 + Psalm 116 + James 2, 14-18 + Mark 8, 27-35
To believe that Jesus is the Messiah is not the same thing as understanding what it means to be the Messiah, and that is what unfolds in these verses today. From now until the end of Mark’s Gospel, the focus will be an instruction in which Jesus will reveal the mystery of his vocation to be a suffering Messiah who will lay down his life for his people, and the disciple’s vocation to follow him. As Mark sets up this last part of the Gospel, it becomes a journey to Jerusalem. Now there is a change of places. Until now, Jesus was in Galilee, but now he heads to Jerusalem knowing what lies ahead. That journey to Jerusalem would be long and hard, and even when they reached the climax of the cross, the disciples still did not comprehend the message of Jesus or understand what the Messiah had come to do. In the structure of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will tell them three times what is coming, and three times they fail to understand. Finally, there is the healing of blind man, and it prefigures the coming “sight” of the disciples who will finally be able to see what he means and what he asks.
We sit here in this church again just like those earlier disciples sat in an upper room. It’s as though no matter what he says and what he does, we still fail to understand what this Messiah has come to do and what he has become by his presence among us. Too often like those earlier disciples, we want a Messiah who will rescue us, do what we ask, give us what we want, and respond on our timetable. When that does not happen, because that is not what this Messiah is all about, some leave. Disappointments or tragedies strike, and failing to grasp the deepest meaning of the Incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, some give up in anger and walk away. They may well have believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent to save, but they do not understand what it means to have that Messiah among us.
This why the cross is so important to us, so revealing to us and so precious, because it leads us deeply into the wonder of discovery, the awesome mystery of a God who has chosen to suffer with us, to know betrayal and denial, to know what it means to be abandoned, to be unjustly condemned and humiliated. We have to get to Jerusalem with Jesus to understand his Messianic work which is not to excuse us from life and all that life can throw at us, but to go with us through every trial to that ultimate day of deliverance, Easter. The Messiah we have all been given is not some comic book hero who sweeps down and makes everything perfect. That is what Peter and his friends were expecting. The Messiah we have all been given is one who looks like us, feels the way we do, suffers what we suffer, and dies like us. Yet, he remains faithful and obedient to the Father. That obedience does not imply that God ordered him to be killed. It does imply that he kept listening and responding to the love God poured out into his heart.
Those first disciples who stayed, listened and watched. They had the love and faithfulness to remain on the road with him, and that was all that was necessary. It is no different for us. We stay, we listen, we watch all the way on the road always with him until the end which is really the beginning of all things new.