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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Reflection/Homily: Twenty-Fourth (24th) Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (August 16 2012)

Theme: Faith in Jesus Christ

In today’s gospel reading (Mark 8:27-35), Jesus really wanted his disciples to give his personality a second thought by asking them: “Who do people say I am?” The disciples gave him the common conception among the people: “John the Baptist,” they said “others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.”  Jesus went further to ask them: “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter who has always spoken for the Apostles replied: “You are the Christ.”
Beloved friends, in our encounter with God, it is possible to have a vague notion of God. Most often, we presume to know God but we have to ask ourselves what personal description we can give about God. In other words, have we any personal encounter with God? Is our notion of God based on what others say about God or what we have experienced about Him? So, who is Jesus for you? Is he a judge, a saviour, a friend, a father, etc?

I think Jesus may have asked this pertinent question to motivate his Apostles to evaluate his personality by giving it a second thought. He possibly had two things in mind, one to increase their faith in him and the other to tell them what type of messiah he was going to remain – not a political or economic messiah but a messiah who will rescue us from sin and death.

Our knowledge of God should increase our faith in Him. Having known Christ since your baptism, has your knowledge of him increased your faith? The catechism teaches us that “faith is a supernatural gift of God, which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed.” Peter’s confession was based on a divine revelation. In our spiritual journey, God’s action is revelation and man’s reaction is faith. God reveals Himself to us through several means and expects us to respond with faith.

This faith according to St. Paul is sufficient for our justification (cf. Romans 3:28) and according to St. James is also insufficient for our salvation if it is not accompanied with good works because the second reading (James 2:14-18) reminds us that faith without good works is dead. Justification is God’s act of declaring a sinner innocent upon one’s confession and belief in Jesus Christ while salvation is God’s act of saving us from eternal damnation and admitting us into His kingdom in heaven. Thus, to be justified, we need to have faith (which is seemingly abstract), but to be saved our faith needs to be made pragmatic, in essence, accompanied with ‘good’ works. 

St. Paul in his letters mentions two types of work: works of the law (erga nomou) and good works (erga Agatha). Works of the law are actions that are neither morally good nor bad; we observe them for the sake of the law. Examples include Sabbath observance, fasting, abstinence, circumcision, etc. Good works are actions that are intrinsically good and are beneficial to others. Examples include clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, etc. These are the good works St. James was referring to and Jesus also speaks of these good works as the basis for the final judgment (cf. Matthew 25).

However, it is not easy to do good works. Each time we intend doing good works, we are discouraged by the devil. Today Christ made known to his Apostles the good works he was to do: to suffer and die for the salvation of humanity but Peter wanted to discourage him. We must learn to resist every discouragement when we want to do good, and in doing good, we must learn to accept whatever suffering we encounter. That is what it means to renounce oneself, take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. That is the lesson we have to learn from the song of the suffering servant (Ebed Yahweh) in the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9). The Lord opened his ears and he remained obedient despite the persecutions he received from people.
Therefore beloved friends, let us pray in today’s Eucharistic celebration that the Lord will increase our faith and help us identify him as the Christ (the Anointed). He was anointed with the Holy Spirit at Baptism to proclaim liberty to the captives, healing to the sick, restoration to the wearied, courage to those living in fear and to minister to the needs of the needy. So do not be afraid even when people persecute you for your good works but let your faith in Jesus remain visible in your good works. He is able to save you from all your problems because he is the Messiah. You will remain unhurt and will join the psalmist to proclaim: “I will walk in the presence of the lord in the land of the living.” God loves you.

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