Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 116, James 2:14-18, Mark 8:27-35
The Gospel this coming Sunday is what one may call a Gospel of paradoxes. Webster defines a “paradox” as a statement that seems to contradict common belief, or a self-contradictory statement or proposition. These paradoxes alone must have presented Jesus as an enigma to His disciples. His teachings --- in words and in deed – were very different from the conventional wisdom of His time. Someone who, lived during His time on earth probably cannot help but wonder how His disciples stuck with Him for three years! He was a non-conformist whom the Pharisees and scribes would rather not have in their midst. There are at least three paradoxes in this Sunday’s Gospel.
Paradox One: Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah and yet, Jesus also says that He must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders and scribes. This is contrary to the Jews’ concept of the Messiah who will free them from the oppression of the Romans -- a hero who will lead them in a revolt to drive away the oppressors from their land. Jesus, through this first paradox of a suffering Messiah, taught us the virtues of humility, and obedience --- an obedience that took Him to the shameful yet glorious and triumphant death on the cross.
Paradox Two: Peter offers to save Jesus from his coming persecution, and yet he was rebuked by Jesus by saying, “Get behind me, satan. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” If we share our problems with a friend, and a friend offers to help us out, wouldn’t we be grateful and not rebuke our friend for offering to help? Jesus knew that He had to obey His Father’s will and not be distracted by Peter. By rebuking Peter, Jesus taught us to be strong and steadfast --- to trust and to be obedient to God’s will.
Paradox Three: Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” How can one save his life, and yet lose it? Or conversely, how can one lose his life and save it? This statement would have been a big puzzle --- almost incomprehensible to those who heard Him. Jesus was telling us that the way to eternal life is to let go of the things that are of this world --- dying to ourselves by letting go of the attachments, vices, and all those things that feel good and yet that keep us away from God.
The renewed Christian’s life is also full of paradoxes. Conventional wisdom is not always consistent with a truly Christian life. Things that are pleasing to the senses – such as alcohol, gambling, drugs and other vices, promiscuity—are not pleasing to the Lord. Things that we think can make us look good and feel good --- wealth, fame, power, and glory that are achieved at all costs – do not make us look good before the Lord. Being renewed Catholics, we need to be steadfast and firm in our convictions and be non-conformists when the situation demands it. As such we are a minority – oftentimes outnumbered. Our actions – including those that show our love rather than revenge for our enemies and those who have hurt us -- are a powerful testimony to our faith. As James says in the Second Reading “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Our actions and works flow from our faith. Living the virtues of humility, and obedience, living a life without attachments, keeping our faith and trust in the Lord, and expressing our love for Him by loving our neighbor including the ‘unlovable’ , will almost always be at odds with the values of the world. As one author said, “We can’t live or do business in this world without rubbing shoulders with those driven by the world’s desires.” How many times have we been faced with situations where conventional wisdom dictates that we take the easy way out, and yet we know deep in our heart that the Lord does not want it that way? Our associates, and perhaps even our friends and relatives did not understand our actions, or may even think that we are weird.
Living a truly transformed Christian life is not easy. Mother Teresa once lamented, "I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much." What will make us steadfast is our love for Jesus, and the vision of eternal life with Him.