Catholic homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: VIRTUOUS SUFFERING
By: Fr. Augustine Ikechukwu Opara
Homily for Sunday September 12 2021
(ISAIAH 50:5-9A; JAMES 2:14-18; MARK 8:27-35)
Today’s readings are demanding. They are demanding because they make us think about ourselves at a deep level, and because they make demands on us. As Christians we are disciples of Christ, we take our most fundamental identity from being in him. The idea of confusing whom Jesus actually is, did not start today. Despite the oracles of the prophets like the one of Isaiah in the first reading today, during the time of Jesus, the people were confused. They had diverse ideas about him. They regarded him as a political messiah, a teacher, a healer, wonderworker, prophet, king, and many others. There are now thousands of religions and sects all over the world, each one preaching about Jesus. But we are not sure whether the Jesus they are preaching is the true Jesus. That is why many people are confused.
In order not to be confused, there is one particular thing, which will definitely identify the true Jesus: it is the cross. The true Jesus always has the cross. There is no cross-less Jesus. That is why he said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). He is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh that the Prophet Isaiah talks about in the first reading. The cross has been the symbol of man’s cruelty. It has been used as the instrument of torture and death to punish criminals and enemies of the state; a method of execution in Roman-occupied territories.
But the question now is, can suffering be virtuous? Or can suffering be justified in any way? First, we have to look at what suffering is and perhaps Christian suffering to be able to decipher what virtuous suffering is. Suffering is a state of person or thing that suffers. And of course, to suffer is to undergo or feel pain or distress. Perhaps the question is now most appropriate; can suffering or pain be justified? The first thing that comes to my mind is the pain of a pregnant woman in labour. At the cry of a new baby all pains are gone. For a Christian then, suffering is simply making sacrifice or undergoing some pain for a greater good. So, suffering can open our eyes to a richer, better and more beautiful life.
And that is the basic point of today’s readings, Our Messiah is the suffering Servant. He did not reject his part to salvation of mankind because of suffering. His suffering and death have opened door for us; the gate of salvation. To be Christ’s disciple is to follow in the way of the cross. The path that Jesus was inviting his disciples to share meant tremendous suffering and death. This is the kind of radical commitment and sacrifice that Jesus calls us to adopt for the sake of the Gospel.
The Word of God this Sunday challenges the basic assumptions of life. It defines the meaning of life not in terms of personal gain, self-interest and shallow success, but rather in terms of one’s sense of duty, commitment and fidelity. Ultimately, it is our ability to live life’s bitter disappointments that determines our Christian discipleship. Following Christ involves constant renunciation, a turning away from a lesser to a better and more complete self. There is an unmaking and a remaking of attachments and values. To take up our cross: this is something for us to do, it is an activity.
So, my brothers and sisters, let us pray that we respond to the person and message of Jesus, not by words as James says in the second reading, but by attitudes and actions that reflect the radical vision of Christian life. We are challenged today to be practical Christians as Christ was. We are presented with the reality of what it actually means to be a true Christian; “Faith without good work is dead or useless.” The good news is that our crosses will not last forever, but will definitely end up in triumph.
God bless you!
Fr. Augustine Ikechukwu Opara