Christ Crowned with Thorns, Caravaggio, ca.1604, Kunsthistorisches Museen, Vienna

God's word on Sunday: The true voice of God will challenge us

  • September 15, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 16 (Year B) Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

What does it mean for God to open our ear? For the unknown prophetic figure in Isaiah, it meant that his life was turned upside down. Gone was any hope of a peaceful, idyllic life — it would instead be marked by opposition, ridicule and physical violence. 

We sometimes pray that God will communicate with us, but when God does, it may not be what we want to hear. God’s ways and God’s will are far different than ours. 

When the Suffering Servant first heard the voice of God, he could have bolted and run like Jonah. But this individual was made of sterner stuff. He did not rebel or turn away from God’s words, nor did he try to escape the abuse and assaults that rained upon him. The prophet felt the presence and the power of God within him, so he had the courage and strength to stand up to all the negativity arrayed against him. 

He was to speak out on behalf of God, challenging and teaching the people in an effort to keep them focused on the path of God. He felt that he could face anything. God was with him and that was all that mattered. 

This was not a case of fanaticism or stubbornness, for he was willing not only to suffer on behalf of God, but to do things God’s way. Not so in the case of fanatics. Everything must be done their way and they are usually quick to lash out at any opposition. 

There is no shortage of individuals convinced of their moral rectitude and possession of the truth. Our culture and our institutions are poisoned by this black and white, winner-take-all attitude. 

It would be very helpful if we learned the art of listening — not only to one another, but to God. The true voice of God will challenge and humble us, and it will not inflate our ego or delude us into thinking that we are someone special or in possession of absolute truth.

When praying grace before meals, people often add a prayer for those who lack food and shelter. That is fine, but as James insists, it cannot end there. Faith is as faith does. Faith is a verb and must always be expressed in deeds of loving kindness. An overemphasis on faith as an inward feeling or commitment can lead to an unfortunate “me and Jesus” sort of spirituality. 

On the other extreme, deeds that are mere frenetic activity, devoid of an awareness of God or spiritual ideal, are lacking and often will not last. Faith and deeds are two halves of the same reality. To separate them or overemphasize one of them at the expense of the other robs both of richness and power.

Who do you say that I am? Jesus addressed that question not only to the apostles, but to people in every age. The answer that people give will reveal a lot about them and determine the sort of experience of God that they will have. The question has a special urgency for us today, especially with the disillusionment and confusion experienced by many in the wake of Church scandals and political turmoil. 

When Jesus posed the question to His followers, most repeated what they had heard in the marketplace or in conversations with others. It was the word on the street and, as is often the case, there was little agreement between the various opinions. 

John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets were all contenders. Peter’s answer was not the common opinion and he was right on target. Jesus was the Messiah, pure and simple. 

But even this revelation provoked misunderstanding. Jesus immediately linked His status of Messiah with suffering and death, provoking an emotional protest from Peter. Suffering and death were not seen as part of the Messiah’s job description. The self-understanding of Jesus resonated with the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. 

To hear the voice of God and obey it is not an easy path and is usually fraught with suffering and struggle. Jesus bore His cross with patience, courage and love — the true mark of one anointed by God. If Jesus is truly our mentor, teacher and Lord, we will lean into the wind and bear the challenges of our time courageously and patiently, just as He did.