The second reading ends with the line: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. But I think this is one sentence too early. The next line reads, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” We must have faith to be saved, but what does it mean to have faith?
Having faith is so much more than the simple ability to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s so much more than saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” The words are important, don’t get me wrong, but to truly mean those words we say: that is faith. To truly mean those words we say, not only must believe those words in our minds, but we must show that believe those words in our actions.
If I have faith and believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, that should show in how I live my life. Jesus Christ cared about the poor and the lonely, and he helped them when they allowed him to do so. Jesus Christ taught those around him the truth, even when his life was threatened because of it. Jesus Christ showed compassion to the sick and the lame. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and He admonished those who were persistent in sinning. Jesus Christ looked at people, and He loved them. Jesus Christ lived the Gospel. If I believe that he is my God, then shouldn’t my life resemble his? If I believe that he is my God, do I have any right to decide that one of these aspects is more important than the others? Perhaps my natural abilities lead me to teaching others and showing God’s love to people, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the sick or allow sin to go unchallenged. Jesus did all these things. We aren’t God, so we can’t do everything, but we should at least try!
But this is all if I have faith. This is all if I believe in Jesus Christ. It all depends on how I answer one question. It depends on how I answer the question Jesus asks the disciples today: Who do you say that I am? If Jesus was standing in front of you, and he asked you this question, how would you answer? Think about it. How would you answer the question? Say it to Jesus in your mind and be honest. Jesus doesn’t want to hear what your spouse or religion teacher says about him. He doesn’t want to hear the preconceived notions you have of him. Jesus wants to hear who you say that he is. Is he your friend? Is he the one who will always love you? Jesus can handle whatever you say to him. Let’s take a few seconds, right now, and answer Jesus.
Did you tell him? Were you honest to him?
No matter what you just told him, I think Jesus would say to each one of us, “my child, I love you. I love you so much more than you can imagine. I did not come into this world to condemn you, but so that you may have eternal life, and I have so much more I wish to teach you about myself. You have to take the initiative though.” Then Jesus says to as, as he did to his disciples in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For 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.”
Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. […] Even today these words are regarded as a stumbling block and folly (cf. 1 Cor 1: 22-25). Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for his Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way.”
We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because only this path leads us on the road to eternal life. Only Jesus can offer us Heaven and eternal happiness. Following money, prestige, power, worldly pleasures, or anything that is not Jesus else will result in precisely the opposite: eternal misery and separation from God. Self-denial is hard. Any cross given us is hard. Following Jesus is hard. All those things that Jesus does in the Gospel, and then asks us to do: they’re hard. They are exhausting. They tax us. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it if the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”
Following Jesus is hard. It is taxing. It depends that we do God’s will instead of our own. But we are not alone when we follow Jesus. God is on our side. He will never let us lose our way, as long as we follow his Son as well as we can. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that we have been “created for greatness—for God himself; [we were] created to be filled by God. But [our] heart[s] [are] too small for the greatness to which [they are] destined. [Our hearts] must be stretched.” Because our hearts must be stretched, “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”
Friends, let us do the hard things, let us do the great things. We have God on our side, the same God who calls us to be lights to the world. Let us follow Christ, so that he can lead us into eternal life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
September 16, 2018
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35