24th of the Year, 12th Sep 21
On Tuesday we shall be keeping Holy Cross Day also known as the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross and today`s readings, in a special sense, prepare us for that great feast of our Salvation for as we listen and ponder the words of the scripture readings today we are set on the way to that Feast.
Beginning with just four verses of chapter 50 from the prophet Isaiah we are confronted with the third of the Servant Songs of the prophet Isaiah. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah has been seen by many Christians as a foretelling of the suffering of our Saviour Jesus which is seen more fully when we read Isaiah 53 as that ends with the death of the servant.
Our Gospel reading from Mark chapter 8 tells of our Lord and his disciples being in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, just about a week before his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and so just weeks before His betrayal, judgment and crucifixion. This is in border country with Syria right in the most northern part of Israel also known as Panias for it was a pagan centre for the worship of the Greek God Pan and, as such, anathema to the Jews, near the foot of Mount Hermon and from where a spring rises and later joining another river becomes the river Jordan. It is a very lush and beautiful area. It is on the way here, according to St. Mark`s account, that Jesus reveals himself by asking the question of his disciples, `Who do people say I am ?` They answer, repeating what they had heard, `John the Baptist`, `Elijah` and others again, `One of the prophets`. Then Jesus, getting down to the nitty gritty challenges them by saying `But you, who do you say I am ?` Not surprisingly, it is Simon Peter who speaks up to say, `You are the Christ.` No sooner had Peter made this profound statement than he, with the others, were given strict orders by Jesus not to tell anyone about him.
Perhaps we find this command strange for surely followers would naturally want to proclaim the Good News. Yes, of course, but Jesus, first of all had three important things to teach the twelve:
Firstly, that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously.
Secondly, that he was to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death.
Thirdly, that after three days he would rise again!
We find a similar but rather fuller account in Matthew 16 and a simpler account in Luke 9.
We then find Peter, who has recognised the truth of who Jesus is, the Messiah, then remonstrating with Jesus after Jesus had taught these three things about himself quite openly but then we find Jesus, turning and seeing his disciples, rebuking Peter by saying, `Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God`s way but man`s,` Mark does not record the way in which Peter had remonstrated with Jesus but St. Matthew in chapter 16 of his gospel writes: `God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you,` and then records the reply of Jesus: `Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.` Clearly, the prospect of Jesus being put to death was more than Simon Peter, initially, could bear.
Today`s gospel passage ends with Jesus calling the people and his disciples to him saying, `If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.` These words we fine paralleled in Matthew chapter 16 and Luke chapter 9.
Yes, we are called to share the Cross of Christ. Some Christian sayings: “No crucifixion – no resurrection”, “No Cross – no Crown”.
It is not too likely that those of us here will suffer a martyr`s death though many Christians of our own time have done so and will do so. However, we are called to be martyrs in the sense of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the way in which we live and act. For the Greek word “martoureo” means `I bear witness`.
That passage which we have had read to us from chapter 2 of the Epistle General of St. James put the meaning of Christian faith into perspective when he writes: “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, `I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,` without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.”