Do we live the faith we profess or run from the Cross?

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Listening to Peter in Caesarea Philippi in today’s Gospel proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ - the Messiah - (Mark 8:29) would make you think that Peter would be a model disciple of Jesus from then on in the Gospel. But that is not the case. Peter and the other Eleven are not model disciples in the Gospel of Mark. Just after this central and very important section of the Gospel of Mark where Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, we see Peter’s weakness. Jesus said he would suffer grievously, be rejected by the elders, chief priest and scribes, be put to death and rise again (Mark 8:31). But this was too much for Peter. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to persuade Jesus not to allow this to happen to him. Suffering for the sake of the kingdom was not what Peter had in mind for the Messiah or for himself either. Jesus rebuked Peter with very strong words reminding us of Jesus expelling the demons earlier in the Gospel (Mark 8:33). Then Jesus went on to explain that if we are to be his followers we are to take up our cross. If we are to save our life we must lose it and if we lose our life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel we will save it (Mark 8:34-35). Will Peter and the other disciples get the message about Jesus’ cross and their crosses? Let’s see what happens after this in the Gospel.

  • Shortly afterwards in the Gospel (Mark 9:30-31) Jesus again prophecies his passion, death and resurrection. How do the disciples react this time? We get a shock. They had an argument on the road about which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37)!!!

  • To teach his disciples Jesus put his arms around a little child and said anyone who welcomes children in his name welcomes him. But what happens after that? People brought little children to Jesus and the disciples turned them away so Jesus asked to allow the children to come to him (Mark 10:13-16)!!!

  • A third time Jesus prophecies his passion, death and resurrection (Mark 10:32-34) and how do the disciples respond this time? James and John approached Jesus asking for a favor, one of them to sit at the right of Jesus and the other to sit at the left of Jesus when he would be in glory (Mark 10:35-40)!!!

  • And when it came to the time of Jesus’ passion what happened? All the male disciples fled and Peter even denied three times that he knew Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). Only the female disciples went to the cross. But in John’s Gospel we read that the Beloved Disciple also went to the cross.

So quite clearly the disciples did not cover themselves in glory in the Gospel of Mark. When it came to suffering for the sake of Jesus or the Gospel they fail. After Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles we see them totally transformed. Then they suffer persecution for Jesus and the Gospel but here in the Gospel of Mark as we see in today’s Gospel they do not want to suffer for Jesus. Naturally we are disappointed with the disciples in the Gospel of Mark. We expect so much more from them. Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah but when the crunch comes he abandons Jesus. When we compare ourselves to Peter and the other disciples it is an embarrassment to us because we see that we react like them. It is easy for us to profess our faith in Jesus here every Sunday but how do we react when we have to take up our cross? How do we react when we need to witness to Jesus and show what a Christian would do in our circumstances? How do we react when temptation comes our way? Do we give in to temptation like Peter in the Gospel or do we stand firm in faith like Peter in the Acts of the Apostles? We can see that in Peter in the Gospel of Mark professing his faith in Jesus is separate from following Jesus in deed and in action. Faith and action were not aligned correctly in the life of Peter in the Gospel of Mark, they were separated. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God.” (Matt 5:8) One of characteristics of being pure in heart is making the connection between our faith and our deeds, living our lives according to the faith we profess here every Sunday. As we heard in our second reading from the Letter of St. James,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?...faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead…Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. (Jas 2:14-18)

Martin Luther and others following his thinking found fault with the Letter of St. James because it challenged their doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The point of the passage from the Letter of James we heard today is that the way we live shows the depth of our faith. If we say we have faith but do not live like a person of faith then would it be unfair to ask, dare I say, if we are schizophrenic - with a split or dual personality - because we have not allowed our faith to influence every moment of our lives? 

We can view our first reading today from Isaiah as a prophecy of the suffering of Jesus:

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. (Isa 50:6-7)

It is also a challenge to us because Jesus is our model. We want to be like Jesus and so it calls us to be like Jesus who suffered for the kingdom. Do we suffer for the kingdom or do we drop the cross and run like Peter in the Gospel? Are we schizophrenic? We realize that we are not perfect disciples and that we may have much in common with the weak disciples in the Gospel of Mark. We are called to be the strong disciples they became in the Acts of the Apostles. That is our goal. If we have not yet arrived at that goal, in this Eucharist we resolve to do so, and we turn to Jesus for mercy knowing that God is full of compassion.

Jesus, we profess you to be the Messiah. Help us to live in such a way that others will know we profess you to be the Messiah and that we take up our cross after You, and in so doing may many be attracted to follow you.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2006

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year B

Taking up our Cross after Jesus

Peter professed his faith by how he lived and died, we do likewise 2012

Related Homilies: The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering according to Pope John Paul II 2008

Carrying Our Cross after Jesus - stages of healing and acceptance

Growing through Trials like Peter

Jesus on the Cross Teaching us how to respond to Unjust Suffering 2015

stories about our cross