24th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Messiah, but what kind of Messiah?”
We should take the question of Jesus to his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” as addressed to each one of us today and every other day. Now, as at the time of Jesus, there can be a lot of difference between the words we use to profess our faith and what we really believe as manifested by our actions.
The terms: Messiah, the Son of God, for Jesus means the giving up one’s life for the brothers and sisters, but what do they mean for us? This is the central theme of the Gospel, supported by the message of the first reading that shows how, in the Old Testament, God had begun to invite Israel to change its mentality.
The second reading shows how the words of our ‘Profession of Faith’ may be in the right area, but that, in practice, our religion may lack the very essentials of belief: deeds of mercy and love for our neighbour.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
In the second main section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, the section that dates from the Israelites’ time of exile, there are four poems that are known as the ‘servant songs’. These oracles describe the ideal servant of God and the servant’s struggles and accomplishments. Most of the verses of this song are proclaimed each year on ‘Palm or Passion Sunday’ and again on the ‘Wednesday of Holy Week’. An abridged form of this poem also serves as the first reading on this 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The text is presented to us again this Sunday in two main parts.
In the first part, the servant expresses his dedication to the service of God in spite of the insults and degradation that such dedication entails. No matter how misused the servant may be, no matter how brutally he is treated, he does not abandon his dedication to the service of God. He receives his directions from the Lord and follows them and readily submits to whatever suffering may arise from his obedience to his calling. He makes no effort to escape.
In the second part, the servant expresses his confidence in God’s support. He knows that he need not be afraid of anything that human opposition can bring against him. The Lord is on his side. Disgrace and oppression will not have the last word.
It is not quite clear of whom or what the prophet is talking about is this reading. He may even be describing the fate of anyone who is called to be God’s spokesman. Suffering is part of the prophetic calling. It is also possible that he is describing the mission of the whole people. The people suffer insult and diversity in defeat and exile, yet they maintain their loyalty to the Lord God, a loyalty that is eventually vindicated by the peoples return to their homeland.
The early Christians immediately saw in this servant the image of their ‘Master’, Jesus of Nazareth, rejected by his contemporaries, frustrated and condemned by the religious and political leaders of his time, but acclaimed by God, through the Resurrection, as the true winner over the forces of sin and evil.
It can be very demanding and painful to be a servant of the Lord and we cannot explain or give reason why good people suffer. Yet God’s word and the example of Jesus reassure us that no suffering is ultimately meaningless when it serves God’s will. ‘There can be no Christianity without the Cross’!
Psalm 116:1-6, 8-9.
The Psalm is a song of someone recovering from illness or some other distress. Suffering is past. The Lord gave a ready ear to the cry of trouble. The way is open for future life to be spent in God’s presence.
Faith for James, the ready acceptance of God’s word and works are the response of those who know that to hear the word and not to put it into practice is to deceive oneself. To hear the word, is to welcome the poor and the stranger and not to turn away the hungry brother or sister. James is faithful to his Jewish heritage with its concern for the poor and to the other New Testament teachings which declared that God’s love could find no place in the one who saw his brother or sister in need and then closed his heart against them. James’ practical Christianity finds ‘Christ’ in the needy.
Faith without good works is dead! Catholics have rightly insisted that good deeds are necessary for salvation. It is for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, looking after the sick that the reward of heaven is given to people. Simply put, “Love thy neighbour”.
In Israel, those who were traditionally anointed were the priests, the kings and later on the prophets. The anointing was always for a specific task. Due to the failure, to varying degrees, of those who were anointed, the hope was that the Messiah would combine in his person all the characteristics of the priest, the king and the prophet.
As a priest, he would be a mediator between God and his people, as king he would give a sense of direction to the people and ensure the rights of all, especially of the weakest, were respected and finally as a prophet, he would denounce deviations from the covenant, announce God’s will and commit himself to carrying it out with them.
The popular conception of the Messiah, at the time, was that he would be a socio-political leader who would help the people regain the political independence they had lost to the Romans in 63 B.C. when Syria fell to Rome and Pompey, took Jerusalem. It was difficult for the people who knew that they were the chosen ones of God to think that God would not one day re-establish his lordship among them.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Caesarea Philippi. He said to them, “Tell me, who do people say I am?” They told him, “Some say you’re John the Baptist, and others say you’re Elijah, or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers on behalf of the other eleven disciples. Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, that is, the one who has been anointed by God and sent as his final messenger to the people of Israel.
Peter is accurate when he says that Jesus is the Messiah, but he still has to understand that his image of Messiah, which is largely influenced by the political expectations of the time, does not correspond to the type of Messiah Jesus really is. The picture that Jesus paints is of a Messiah suffering and vulnerable in the hands of the leaders of the people. Jesus did not come to seek power and glory; rather, he renounced these to become the ‘Suffering Servant’ of God, suffering on behalf of and for others. A suffering Messiah was not what Peter looked for. For him, it was a contradiction he did not understand.
Although Peter had confessed Jesus as Messiah, he failed to understand what this implied. Jesus’ later statement that his followers must take up their Cross may have originally referred to the Jewish custom of marking their foreheads with a cross as a sign of repentance, although after Jesus’ time it took on an entirely new meaning of sharing his sufferings.
Jesus began to teach them that he would be rejected by all the people and put to death, but after three days he would rise again. Peter took him aside and began to remonstrate about it, but Jesus looked at his disciples and rebuked Peter. “Get away from me, Satan,” he said, “Your thoughts are not God’s thoughts but man’s!” Are we ready to face up to the difficulties of a Christian life or do we try to evade them?
Discussions on the person of Jesus still continue even today. Nobody denies his greatness, and many even say that he is the greatest man ever to live on earth. But is this belief enough for a Christian? What is the difference between a disciple and an admirer of Christ? The apostles were strictly ordered not to speak of Jesus because, though they said the right thing, they were, in fact, confused of his real identity. Are we today more knowledgeable? Are we sure that we know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? What we say about Christ might be as poorly informed as the apostles, and Jesus might perhaps advise us to be silent until we are more enlightened.
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his Cross and follow me”. Then he teaches all of them that being his disciple will require renouncing of self, and the taking up of the Cross.
Taking up the ‘Cross’ means a converted life, dedicated to Christian principles and virtues. The Cross (love for God and love for neighbour above all else) is thus the price we must pay for being a true Christian. Yet the price is not too high. For as Jesus promises, “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”.
For God, life can only be won when it is lost, when it is given over totally to him.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … In a world that seems to be dedicated to the accumulation of wealth and in the participation of pleasure and self-gratification, do we remain dedicated to the service and the love of God? Are we still able to put God first in our lives? Today our faith can be compromised in a much more subtle and seemingly more alluring approach. Instead of suffering, the world and the forces that seem to control it, offers us riches, previously forbidden pleasures and promises of an easy life if we play by their rules. We must recognize where these ‘false promises’ are coming from!
Mon. … The ‘servant’ was confident in God’s support. We need to put all our trust and confidence in God. God’s support for men and women in their trials and sufferings in their ‘exile’ in this world has been proven many times during our history of salvation. God, by giving up his only Son, our Lord and Saviour in atonement for our sins so that we may be redeemed further illustrates his never-ending love for all humankind.
Tues. … By our Baptism, we are called to be ‘Priests, Prophets and Kings’. Suffering is part of our prophetic calling, serving others is part of our kingly calling and carrying out God’s will of loving our neighbour is part of our priestly calling. Through acts of gratuitous love for others, we all need to make the ‘servant role’ in our lives a reality by reducing their suffering and isolation. There can be no Christianity without the Cross.
Wed. … In James we learn the importance of putting into practice God’s word and his works. “Faith without ‘good works’ is dead”. The Church teaches that ‘good works’ are necessary for salvation. Those who model their lives around the ‘Beatitudes’ and ‘God’s will’ have made their eternal life decision.
Thurs. … In the Gospel it is Peter who answers, on behalf of the eleven, the question, “Who do you say I am?” Today, and each and every day, Jesus is asking us the same question: how will we answer? Jesus puts all of us on the spot; be careful of lip service because we answer that question in the manner in which we carry out his teachings.
Frid. … Today we need to make a very important decision. Are we going to join the ranks of Jesus’ many admirers who recognize his great works, but remain distant to his calling? Or do we accept his invitation, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his Cross and follow me”? Which is better for us, “To carry our Crosses into eternity or to carry our riches and pleasures into hell”?
Sat. … Are we able to confess and give witness to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour by our sharing in his virtues and his principles, by sharing in his love and compassion to others, irrespective of their backgrounds? If our lives are not based on the love of God and our neighbour, we need to die to self and sin and rise to new life in Christ. There is no other ‘Way’ to the Eternal Light.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, today we give thanks for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer, who accepted every weakness of our human condition, renouncing himself and taking up the Cross for others. We pray for the grace, that we may do the same.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.