YEAR B: HOMILY OF THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
THEME: TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME
BY: Rev Fr Gerald Muoka
HOMILY: R1 – Is. 50:4-9
R2 – James 2:14-18
GOSPEL – Mark 8:27-35
In his book, At Cross Purposes, Billy D. Strayhorn, narrates how cross-bearing is taken a little more seriously in Lithuania (an independent European country), than any other place. For them, the cross symbolizes Faith, Hope and Love. There are crosses everywhere in the countryside, on roads, in city parks and village squares. Communities and individuals erect crosses to bring them health and to commemorate events like weddings, births and christenings. Crosses are also erected to commemorate historical events. The nation’s pride is the Hill of Crosses, located north of Siauliai. Lithuanians erected crosses there as early as the mid-19th century. The Soviet government couldn’t tolerate that kind of spiritual expression, so they totally destroyed the hill in 1961, then again in 1973 and 1975. But people kept erecting more crosses, until in 1980 their destruction stopped. Today the crosses number in the thousands. They are of different sizes and shapes, some simple, some ornate, but they immortalize Lithuania’s troubles, misfortunes, joys, hope and Faith.
For the Lithuanian people, the cross is more than a symbol in the Church. It is a symbol for the world to see, a symbol that will not go away. It is a symbol of sacrifice, a sacrifice that gives each and every one of us Hope and Faith and courage.
Beloved in Christ, the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy present us with the kind of message our generation abhors and detests comprehending: Christianity or discipleship without the cross is counterfeit. In other words, the true cost of discipleship entails, “denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus.”
However, every message associated with the cross (suffering, is usually prone to rejection from the cradle, because we live in a society where:
~Everyone, both young, adult and elderly are so quick to denounce suffering and shout, ‘God forbid, it is not my portion, Holy Ghost fire’ to every Gospel of suffering.
~ The youngsters want to become famous, heroes, rich and influential without sacrifice and hard work, under the guise: “small girl with a bigger God and Oluwa or Jah bless my hustle”.
~ Where parents want to enjoy fruit of labour without contributing hard and sowing in training their children to an enviable moral and spiritual standards.
~ We desire Christianity without the cross.
Nevertheless, the cross is a signification of suffering that remains the source of life and hope for the fallen humanity.
The cross, as it is to the people of Lithuanian remains a symbol of sacrifice and suffering that guarantees our salvation.
The first reading from Isaiah’s third Servant song, foreshadows the coming of the Suffering Servant whose coming and obedience through suffering would restore hope and vitality to fallen and wounded humanity:
“Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted, I have not turned away. I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting” (Is 50:5).
Meanwhile, we see some perfect correlation and corroboration between the First reading and the Gospel reading; Jesus foretells the passion, death and Resurrection for the first time, in response to Peter’s profession of Faith in him as God’s Messiah and Savior. Like the servant described in today’s first reading, Jesus lived a life of radical obedience and conformity to God’s will. Thus, the Servant passage provides background for the revelation of Jesus as the suffering Messiah.
Today’s second reading, taken from the Letter of James to the Church, reminds us that suffering is not only something to be accepted but also something to be alleviated. James explains how our Faith in Jesus, the Messiah, should help us to alleviate the sufferings of others by our works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.
*THE CROSS: A SYMBOL OF SUFFERING AND HOPE*
Jesus in the Gospel text has made the cross, the truest cost of discipleship namely, denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus. Cross is not just used in the direct sense of its usage, rather, it has some metaphoric usage. The cross is a symbol of suffering and that implies that, for is to live out the truest dictate of our Christian life, suffering (carrying one’s cross) is inevitable.
I have sometimes wondered why most elements or foods that restore hope and life are often very bitter and the ones that lead to destruction and death are often sweet and enticing. I have taken time to ponder why every medication, both western or local always emit detestable and bitter aroma and taste. The same principle appears to every human circumstances. Likewise, the concept of the Cross which was:
(i) A sign of condemnation and curse has become a sign of salvation (Deut. 21:23).
(ii) A signification of suffering now signifies Hope, Faith and Love (In 12:32).
(iii) A symbol of rejection has become an icon of Acceptance
(iv) A representation of death sentence now stands for life
That is why, no matter how you place the cross, it must have an existential representation of positivity:
~When placed flat on the ground- it becomes a bridge against the gullies of life challenges
~When placed on the wall, it becomes a ladder to climb to PROMINENCE and ETERNITY
~ When viewed with the binocular of Mathematics, it becomes a plus + or additional sign
~ When placed in a traversed position, it becomes (x)times..sign of *MULTIPLICATION* (restoration) of lost fortunes for Christ’s sake (Matt. 16:25; Job 42:10).
(1) *WE SHOULD BE READY TO TAKE UP OUR CROSSES AND FOLLOW JESUS*
There are fundamental questions we ask ourselves, Are we ever ready to make sacrifices for what we believe – for Christ’s sake? What can we actually have sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel? Can we offer our ego for peace to reign in our families, marriages or relationships? Jesus’ challenge to all His would-be disciples requires more than a “feel-good” spirituality. A true disciple asks, “Am I willing to sacrifice something for the God Who loves me?” The martyrs chose death for the Christian faith to be nurtured.
(2) *CHRISTIAN SUFFERING IS INEVITABLE
The Catholic Church sees human suffering as a chance to follow the example of Christ and believe that it is a part of God’s plan…. Suffering is a trial, but it is through that trial that faith, hope and love thrives. And through that suffering, an individual can find their own identity and their identity in Christ.
In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah refers to the coming of the Messiah in tones of resignation as the ‘Suffering Servant.’ The servant is all the people of God, personified in the one who exemplified their best goals and traits – to overcome evil by good, violence by love, war by peace.
No one achieves such feat without passing through the furnace of suffering.
That is why, Jesus, in the Gospel reading rebuked Peter when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from such a course – of undergoing suffering. For Jesus, this was yet another temptation in the guise of a close friend’s counsel.
(3) *ENDURANCE WINS THE RACE*
The best antidote for suffering is endurance. Endurance simply means experiencing and surviving pain or suffering. The scripture makes it clear that, “Only our endurance will win the race for us” (Lk 21:19). Jesus, the suffering servant triumphed upon the cross through endurance. We too, in carrying our different crosses, require endurance to win.
Finally, a certain church under construction in a rolling hill was solidified with a large, stone cross cut into an inside wall. Now, it happened that one of the Church’s wealthier members didn’t like the cross there and said it was an eyesore. He offered to give a huge donation to the Church in order to take the cross out of the wall and replace it with a stained-glass window. But when he presented his idea to the parish priest, he said to him, ‘We cannot do what you ask. The architect designed the Church to have this cross; it gives strength to the wall. If you take away the cross, you will destroy the Church.’”
Beloved in Christ, indeed, Christianity cannot be separated from the cross – signifying, triumph through suffering. A cross-less Christianity is a Christ-less Christianity. The Architect of our salvation designed the Church to have the cross. The cross gives strength to the Church; no matter how ugly it appears. Take away the cross and you do not have a Church. So, carry your cross and keep moving…
OH LORD! MAY WE NEVER FAIL TO DO YOUR WILL ALWAYS, EVEN IF IT ENTAILS PASSING THROUGH THE FURNACE. MAY WE WIN THE RACE THROUGH OUR SUFFERINGS.
*GOD BLESS YOU!*
_FR GERALD MUOKA_