Faith must come from within

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  • September 15, 2009
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Sept. 13 (Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)

The image of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah stands in stark contrast to the ideal images of heroes in our own culture. For so many the perfect hero is one who responds to rejection, persecution or personal attack with a dazzling display of power and violence. Contemporary films and TV programs hammer home the measure of a hero: body counts and explosions.

But Isaiah’s hero responds with silence, patience and steely determination. The Suffering Servant knows that he is guided and inspired by God. This gives him the courage and patience to face every kind of adversity for he knows that God will be the source of his strength.

What is the difference between a fanatic and someone truly inspired by God? The cynic might reply “none!” but nothing could be further from the truth. A fanatic is self-centred and willing to use force, violence and hatred to impose their own vision of the truth. Everything depends on them. The one truly inspired and commissioned by God, on the other hand, is God-centred and not willing to defile their efforts with violence and hatred. But even beyond this is the trust they have in God. It is God’s show; their strength and success will come only from God. They will stand firm in their ideals and let the power of truth itself win the victory. No need to give truth a dubious helping hand — God is enough. 

The letter of James is a wonderful corrective to all forms of religiosity that are concerned only with one’s personal salvation — the “me and Jesus” spirituality. Although faith springs from the depth of our own heart, it must always be expressed in concrete ways, most notably in care and concern for the well-being and happiness of others. Any form of religion or theology that turns a blind eye to human suffering of others or theologizes it away is human selfishness and lack of love cloaked in pious platitudes. Faith — as well as love — is always manifested in deeds.

Who was Jesus? There are hundreds of opinions available today that range from the thoughtful and enlightening to the truly weird, wacky and sensational. But perhaps there was also a wide range of options in the time of Jesus. The disciples have been following Jesus for some time. Jesus asks them a seemingly simple question: What is the word on the street about me? Who do people think I am and what do they think I am up to? There were probably hundreds of opinions in the air, and the disciples themselves were most likely as conflicted and confused at this point as everyone else. There is probably dead silence at first and then each hesitantly offered some of the titles and opinions heard during their journey.

There are no surprises: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Jesus poses the now-famous question, who do people say that I am? Peter was uncharacteristically quiet, lost in deep thought and silent communion with a deeper and untapped part of his soul. His blurted answer: “You are the Christ.” Unlike Matthew’s rendition of the story, filled with effusive praise and the bestowal of dignities and titles, his confession of faith is only greeted with a stern warning to keep it quiet. Jesus then gives a completely new spin to what it means to be the Christ or Messiah. It’s about suffering, humiliation and death — but Peter and the others don’t want to hear a word. Jesus is on target with his accusation of Peter: You are thinking as humans do! And humans think about safety, comfort and reputation. Taking up one’s cross means one thing — being willing to focus on God’s will with a laser-like intensity, regardless of personal cost.

There comes a time when we must make Jesus Christ our own. We can no longer repeat theological formulas or the opinions of others — we must answer from the depths of our heart and soul who Christ is for us and then live by it. This is when one crosses over the threshold that divides mere followers of a religion from those who can truly call themselves disciples. We can inherit our religion from family and culture but we cannot inherit faith.

Faith must come from within. Who is Jesus? Only we can answer that question.

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