24th Sunday Homily in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: Journey of the spirit
By: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Homily for Sunday September 12 2021
Readings: Isaiah 50: 5 – 9; James 2: 14 – 18; Mark 8: 27 – 35
In our liturgy this Sunday, it is quite obligatory to fix our gaze on the Gospel passage because, as has been underlined by numerous commentators, it constitutes not only the spatial center (we are exactly in the middle of the text) but also the spiritual center of the Gospel of Mark. We know, in fact, that this Gospel is similar to a journey of the spirit that has as its starting point the darkness of the interior night and will have as it’s ending the dazzling afternoon of Calvary when the man Jesus will be recognized as the “Son of God “, waiting for the luminous dawn of Easter from which the journey to the Christian Community will begin.
Following the narrative path of the piece, let us start with the first dark area. It envelops the disciples and the crowd who, suddenly provoked by the essential and radical question of Jesus (“Who do you say that I am?”), giving a list of answers substantially off topic, against the background of Caesarea Philippi, a city built by the son of Herod the Great, Philip, in perfect Roman style and dedicated to Pan, the god of nature. Jesus is seen according to three different biblical profiles. The first is that of the Baptist: Mark had already reminded us that King Herod Antipas, the murderer of the Baptist, having heard of the fame of Jesus, had suspected that it was precisely “John risen from the dead” (6, 14). For some, therefore, the preaching of the Baptist was revitalized in Jesus, due to his eagerness for truth and justice. But, as the Precursor himself said, between him and Christ there was an abyss: “I am not the Christ, but I was sent before him. He must increase, and I decrease. Whoever comes from above is above all, but whoever comes from the earth belongs to the earth” (Jn 3,28.30-31).
For others, on the other hand, Jesus was Elijah revived. The famous prophet of Israel was, in fact, expected on the threshold of the messianic era as herald of the Lord’s definitive judgment. The prophet Malachi wrote: “Behold, I will invite prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (3:23). For others, Jesus was simply a prophet, bearer of a divine word, witness of justice, a sign of hope for the poor of the earth and for the victims of history. All these answers are still immersed in the fog of popular expectations of those days; they drew a noble but not authentic and complete portrait of the secret face of Jesus.
It is at this point that Peter breaks the clouds with his proclamation: “You are the Christ”. An exact but still incomplete definition, a light thrown into the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, but a light still streaked and besieged by darkness. In fact, the title “Christ”, literally “the consecrated” or “the anointed”, was a Greek version of the Hebrew “Messiah” and, in the Old Testament vision, the Messiah was still a human creature, even if invested with the mission of offering the definitive word of God and to close the path of history. For this reason, Peter’s answer is still incomplete: Jesus is not only “Christ” but he is also “Son of God”, as Matthew will add in his redaction of Peter’s words (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”16, 16). Jesus accepts this first sketch of his figure but immediately directs it in an unexpected direction. Jesus shows that he wants to be Christ-Messiah not through the royal life of power but through the life of the cross, death and total self-giving.
He will not be the triumphant, glorious, and royal Messiah of a certain biblical and Jewish tradition, particularly alive in those years when the weight of the Roman occupation gave birth to nationalist and revolutionary sparks. He will be instead the suffering and poor Messiah sung by the famous four poems of the Servant of the Lord who’s reading today suggests to us by presenting the third: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheek to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting” (Is 50, 5.6). Around this decisive clarification of Jesus another mass of clouds thickens. It envelops Peter who does not stand up to a religion of poverty, silence, and death, to a “weak” God who is not triumphal and imperial. And here then, his confession of faith is replaced by his disavowal on the part of Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You don’t think according to God but according to men”. A terrible warning which also falls on us freezing all our illusions, our comfortable and superficial religiosity, offering us the “narrow road” of the cross. Who is Jesu for us? A magical man of valor? Or the Man-God who willingly chose the path of the Cross for our salvation?
Fr. Jude Chijioke