September 16 24th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 50:5-9).

This is what is known as the third of the four Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah. These four Servant Songs are Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. The poems speak of a Servant of the Lord chosen by God with a mission to God’s dispirited people in Israel and to the world. It is not quite clear who the prophet had in mind by the Servant in the first instance, as addressed to the exiles in Babylon or in Jerusalem after the return. Some think the Servant might be a personification of Israel, or of Israel humiliated and renewed for her world mission. Others believe that an individual is intended, for instance the prophet himself, or a combination of both. In any case, whatever of the original person in view, the New Testament sees them as prophecies of Christ. In this Sing the Servant speaks of his relation with God, how God has opened his ear to learn from his sufferings. He describes these sufferings and of his unbounded confidence in God who will assure that his mission, through his humiliations and sufferings, will bear fruit.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 114[115]). I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal.

Second Reading (James 2:14-18).

This text is to be read within the overall context of this letter of James, not just by itself. Throughout the letter James is at pains to point out that faith in God, to be genuine, must bear fruit in good works. Although he does not use the terms, he seems to stress the two great commandments: love of God and love of one’s neighbour. There can be no genuine love of God, faith in the Lord of glory, without the good works of helping one’s neighbour. James’s outlook is not legalistic. The Christian wisdom on how to please God is a gift from God, to be prayed for (James 1:56), to be asked for in faith. The internal vision of faith, James seems to say, is an implanted word, able to save out souls (James 1:21). The believer should look on it as in a mirror to see the true Christian vision, which is useless unless put into practice (James 1:22-25). True religion before God and the Father for James is the twofold commandment: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (1:27). Those who hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, should show no partiality between rich and poor, slighting the poor person while cow-towing to the rich (James 2:1-7). James cites the “royal (kingly) law”, the Law of Moses that came from God the universal king, the law central to Jesus preaching of the kingdom of God: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. He illustrates this with examples illustrating that “faith”, in the sense of intellectual conviction of the truths of faith, is useless unless put into practice. Unless good deeds do not go with it, faith is quite dead. Part of the ending of this reading differs somewhat in different translations. One rendering, followed in some lectionaries, possibly intended to make clearer sense, has: “This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds’”. A more faithful translation would be: “But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works’”, the meaning probably intended being: “God’s gifts differ; to some he gives the gift of faith, to others the charism of good deeds”. James’s reply is that in the human situation the two cannot be separated; the demons in hell believe, they have faith, in God but suffer nonetheless.

Gospel (Mark 8:27-35).

This reading has three important parts: Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah); Jesus’ prediction of his own humiliation and passion, and Jesus’ presentation of this as model for all who wish to follow him. In Mark’s account we are still in pagan territory, in the environs of Caesarea Philippi, the new capital of the tetrarch Philip. Jesus’ renown had already reached the ears of Herod Antipas, and people had different views with regard to his identity, some saying he was John the Baptist (recently beheaded) risen from the dead; others that he was the prophet Elijah, others still one of the earlier prophets (see Mark 8:14-16).. Jesus now questions his disciples as to the people’s view of his identity, and gets the same answer as was given to Herod Antipas. On behalf of the disciples Peter professes their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the promised and expected Messiah. Jesus did not deny their profession of faith but, realizing the danger of misunderstanding if it became publicly known, gave strict orders that it remain a secret. The role of the expected Jewish Messiah was one of prestige and honour. Jesus makes it clear to them that his destiny is quite the opposite, one of humiliation and death. After the recent execution of John the Baptist Jesus must have realized that the same fate would soon await himself. For Peter this proves too much to take. In the temptation in the wilderness Satan sought to have Jesus seek the easy road of fame and honour. Jesus rejected this. Now Jesus compares Peter’s intervention to that of Satan. It was thinking at a human level. God’s plans were quite different. Mark next presents Jesus words as addressed to “the multitude, the people, the crowds, and his disciples”, to all who might wish to follow Jesus or were actually doing so. They must be ready to face any necessary consequences and be prepared for suffering if necessary; (“take up their cross” he used metaphorically). They must be prepared to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, that is all that the gospel message stands for.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

When the Church is weak, then she is strong.

In our own day the Church, particularly in Europe and the English-speaking world, is undergoing a crisis, especially because of faulty Church administration, paedophile and sex allegations and court verdicts. For many this can be disheartening; for others a reason to abandon practice of their faith or even faith itself. The problem is felt keenest in countries where the Church and the clergy were held in high esteem, and the clergy even in a sense beyond reproach. Some even question whether the Church will ever regain her moral status, or even survive the crisis.  In a sense, in view of the attacks from various angles, the Church is being persecuted. This may be a good thing for the Church. In fourth century Africa where the Church, after centuries of persecution, was at peace and had a vigorous spiritual life one noted scholar (Tyconius) on the Apocalypse of John could not identify with the Church catholic since it was not being persecuted! The present crisis in the Church could be a call to regard the Church, the Body of Christ, as it really is – a mystery. She understands herself best by going back to the Gospels and the teaching of St Paul.  We all like status, being in a state of respect and of honour, and this is natural. But let us recall Jesus’ message. Possibly Jesus, as a human, liked the same. After his baptism, where he was declared by the Father from heaven as his Son, in whom the Father was well pleased, he may have had the natural desire to profit by this. In his temptations Satan tried to get him to so. The early Christian hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 says that instead of this Jesus humbled himself even to the ignominy of the cross. Peter at Caesarea Philippi found reference to Jesus’ humiliation and crucifixion too much, but as follower of Christ came to accept the mystery. For the Pharisee Saul, death by crucifixion of one believed to be the Messiah was totally repulsive. But he too was led to see that this was God’s way. God, in Christ and the Church, works through human weakness. Paul came to realize that in the contradictions of his ministry and in his own personal life. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). In his preaching of the Gospel he was keen to stress the centrality of the Cross and resurrection, so that Christian faith is based on divine grace and power, not human reasoning. God willed to save the world not by wisdom (as Greek wisdom would wish it) nor by miracles but by the foolishness of the cross. Not that the Church does not respect human wisdom and ingenuity. With Paul, believers are called on to rejoice always, and to think positively, about “whatever is true, whatever is honourable whatever is just, whatever is pure, is gracious, if there is anything worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). But Christian faith is a continuation of Christ’s death and resurrection, a mystery to be understood through faith, and by prayer for the understanding of this great mystery. Christ is with his Church, in the soul of every believers bringing conviction in trials,

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