Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
07 Sep 2021
Christina R. Zaker, DMin

Reading 1: Isaiah: 50: 5-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm: 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Reading 2: James 2: 14-18
Gospel: Mark: 8:27-35


Today’s readings focus our attention on the very heart of Mark’s Gospel: Who is this man Jesus, and what does it mean to follow him? The question “Who do you say that I am?” that Jesus poses to Peter and his disciples is one we all must answer with our lives. How do we understand this person Jesus and his ministry, and how does this understanding shape the way we live our lives in response?

The first and second readings offer clues to what it means to follow him. In the second reading, the letter of James, we are implored to back up our faith with good works. If our faith only lives on our lips but is not reflected on and lived out in the work that we do or the way we build relationships with others, then our faith “is dead.”

The first reading points to the possibility of persecution for our faith. A living faith makes us have “ears that can hear” our God. When our actions reflect our hearing, we might suffer as a result. To have the courage to act authentically on our faith, means to disrupt the norms and challenge the status quo; to lean into discomfort for the sake of others. It is not always easy to live out our faith. However, Isaiah reminds us to set our “face like flint” and not sway from the path of our God. We will not be shamed if our heart is following God.

With these readings today, we are faced not only with the question Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” but also the reality that to know him and follow his footsteps means being willing to follow him in his suffering on the cross. It is this reality that makes Peter scoff. He believes in Jesus as the Messiah, but he is not yet willing to accept that the path leads through persecution and suffering. In turn, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is startling, but one we should each note. We may think we know Jesus, but we need to truly reflect on the times in our own lives where our apathy or fear have held us back from the work to be done. When our comfortable lives have led us to hesitate, to think “Do I really want to get that involved in dismantling racism or anti-Semitism when it doesn’t really affect me?” or “Do I want to change my habits to act for climate change when I’d rather just do my thing?…”  When we hesitate to act, thinking we don’t really need to live our faith that way, those are the times we need to hear Jesus’ rebuke and reorient to his way.

Being a people of faith is filled with ambiguity. Even those who walked with Jesus were confused by his teaching and his invitation. But he did not tell them faith would be easy and black and white. He encouraged them to have ears that could hear the cries of the poor, eyes that could see the plight of those on the margins. Jesus’ actions showed us that faith meant tending to the sick, sharing meals with the hungry, visiting those in prison and comforting those who needed God’s loving embrace. Today our actions are just as important. There are issues of immigration, climate change, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and others that demand that we learn and pray and respond with hearts shaped by a shepherd who leads with love and courage. The people of God hunger for responses from us that are moved by his love, not our hesitations or fears.

There are times when I read today’s Gospel and I flip the question toward myself. In my honest reflection, I turn to my God and ask, “Who, my Lord, do you say that I am?” It is a poignant question to ask and have the courage to hear the answer. Am I a person who sows hope and joy, a peacemaker, an activist, a healer, a teacher? Am I a sinner, a coward, a racist, a fearful child? Each time I listen for the answer I am some combination of all of them; some combination of love and fear. Each time I feel both my Lord’s loving embrace and his rebuke. And each time the way before me clears a little more and I am invited once again to be merciful and loving to myself and to others along the way.

Christina R. Zaker, DMin
Director of Field Education