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God's Word on Sunday: Listen more to God, less to emotion

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  • September 5, 2021

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 12 (Year B) Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Insults, invective and torrents of verbal and psychological abuse have become frequent forms of communication in our time.

We can see it in the media or perhaps even on the street. Often it is directed at those attempting to stand up for justice or for even daring to challenge public opinion or the status quo. Sometimes it even crosses the line into dark territory — physical violence.

What does it take to withstand these assaults? Stubbornness and resolve can help someone to dig in their heels and grit their teeth, but the prophecy from Isaiah points to far more: the ability to do so with serenity and without answering evil and violence in the same way.

The unknown figure in the prophecy had been prepared by God and was not resistant. Similar individuals have a calm and steady assurance that they are in the hands of God regardless of the suffering they might have to endure. They do not experience shame or humiliation at their treatment by others for they know that they are doing the will of God and are pleasing in God’s sight.

With that inner assurance, they are quite ready and willing to confront any adversary or threat and to do so without fear or weakness.

Great harm is often done by those motivated by fanaticism, self-righteousness and angry zeal. The individual portrayed in this prophecy is not “inspired” or impelled by his own ego, emotions or desires. The prophet had stilled his own heart and mind so that he was able to respond to the promptings of God’s spirit.

Violence and aggressive action are flashier and might appear to obtain quicker results. Ironically, the more profound and long-lasting results are usually from the hands of individuals who did things God’s way rather than lapsing into typically human methods.

Rage, resentment and moral indignation are not the same as a divine calling. The rightness of one’s cause does not equal an anointing from above to use any means to achieve even just ends. In any age, but especially our own, we need to listen more to God and less to emotion, lies and questionable “information.” We will all be better off and happier for having done so.

One theological school of thought holds that we are saved only by faith and that deeds account for little or nothing. Another sees our salvation as one big self-help program, enabling us to earn enough points to get into Heaven. Very sensibly, James avoids both extremes.

Faith that does not reach out in loving service to others is not faith at all, but selfishness. And deeds that are not done with love and a sense of service are merely attempts to manipulate God and convince ourselves that we have earned our salvation by right. Faith and deeds go hand in hand — true faith expresses itself in loving action, and true spiritual deeds are done in faith and love with no intention of gain.

We have heard the story of Peter’s confession of faith many times. But it is only partially about Peter — in fact, it is a model or paradigm of how Jesus enters our lives. There are many who are cultural Christians or even regular churchgoers. But mere assent to a creed or dogma does not equal transforming faith.

The apostles had been travelling with Jesus for some time. They had heard His teachings and witnessed His miracles. But to some degree, they were still clueless about who and what Jesus was.

When He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” they all repeated things they had heard in the marketplace and in the streets. Then the laser-like question targeted each one of them: “Who do you say that I am?”

Only Peter was able to answer that Jesus was the Messiah, the one sent from God.

At some point in our own lives, this question will be directed at us in some form. The answer that we give must come from the heart and soul and not from the mouths of others, living or dead. And if we answer that He is the Messiah, then our lives must change irrevocably.

Jesus warns us as He warned them: Following in His footsteps is not easy and can bring suffering and struggle.

God’s spirit will give us the strength and the grace.

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