Sunday, 6 September 2015

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
The cruellest blow Jesus ever received was the kiss of Judas. This treacherous act pierced his heart more deeply than the lance of Longinus and yet, amazingly, he did not turn his face away. Jesus knew it had to be so. Judas had made his choice. And Jesus well understood that this act of betrayal would initiate his Passion, so he let it be done to him.
It was an heroic act of love, really, to allow Judas to give that kiss and perhaps there was a lingering hope that it was not too late, that the very act of kissing his Master might awaken regret and a change of heart at the last moment. But it was not to be.
The hours which followed that kiss would be full of such heroic acts.
Adam, the first man, had turned away from the Father. He chose to disobey the God who had made him master of all creation. He wanted more. He wanted to be ‘like God’.
Jesus was God but wanted to be ‘like man’: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are.. (Phil 2:6-7).
Satan, and those whom he inspired, constantly tempted Jesus to rise from self-imposed lowliness: tell these stones to turn into loaves (Mt 4:3); throw yourself down ... his angels will support you (Mt 4:6); I will give you all these ... if you fall at my feet and worship me (Mt 4:3). And then finally in desperation they shrieked: Come down from the Cross and we’ll believe (c.f. Mt 27:42).
For an entirely different reason Peter strayed unwittingly into this territory when he remonstrated with Jesus about his suffering and death (Mt 16:22): This must not happen to you. Jesus quickly put him straight: Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.
To save the world from its sin Jesus knew what he had to do; he had only to keep his gaze steadfastly on the face of his Father and to let happen what will. This was the entire script of the drama by which he would set mankind free and, as Isaiah makes clear, Jesus knew his part: For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
Each of these acts is heroic. When life becomes painful or humiliating how difficult it is for us to make no resistance, to not turn away, to offer ourselves to life’s blows without covering our faces?
In the drama of salvation authored by the Father a special part was played by Satan and he played it well. In his arrogance and pride he made up the script as he went along but ironically, and to his eternal shame, it all ended up in accordance with scriptures, as the Father had planned.
Jesus’ part was impossibly difficult but sublimely simple. All he had to do was – nothing: Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth (Is 53:7).
Here we are reminded of what Moses said to the people at the Red Sea: Have no fear! Stand firm, and you will see what God will do to save you today: the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. God will do the fighting for you: you have only to keep still (Ex 14:13-14).
It was Jesus’ profound, unshakeable reliance on his Father which allowed him to say: The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults ... I know I shall not be shamed. My vindicator is here at hand.
Jesus has spoken of his partand now he speaks, finally, of ours. Somehow we always find it easier to recognise the duties of others than our own so we will need to listen carefully as Jesus explains our part.
He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘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.’