Fr. Ben’s 24th Sunday Homily in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: SUFFERING TIME IS BLESSING TIME!
By: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
Homily for Sunday September 12 2021
One of the most common statements you can hear among Christians today is: ‘God forbid! It is not my portion! God, why me?’ And this often comes out of our mouths once pain, suffering or death is mentioned. I don’t even know how we got here but I know, studying the teachings of Christ, that something went wrong somewhere…perhaps it is in our human nature…but some other religions have stoic tendencies. Even Muslims seem to have stronger assent for suffering and self sacrifice than modern day Christians.
B. THE ‘SATANIC’ POPE
In today’s gospel, there is only a thin line separating Peter the rock (the 1st Pope) and Peter the escapist (the Satanic agent). Peter passes the theory exam on faith in Christ but fails the practicals that followed woefully. On the question of Christ’s identity, he got the answers right. Christ was the Messiah. But on the fact of Christ’s mission to suffer and die, he said : ‘God forbid…It is not your portion!’. But the fact remains that as often as we say: ‘It is not my portion’, Jesus tells us: ‘Get behind me Satan…because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s’. No matter the level of ecclesiastical promotion we get, demotion often awaits us from Christ as soon as we begin to distance ourselves from the Cross of Christ.
The great confession made by Peter at Caesarea Philippi was laudable for 2 reasons:
1. That city was hitherto a home of idol worship with over 14 temples dedicated to the deity ‘Pan’ & the city was called Panias. In recent times Caesar & Philip his son got the city entangled in the web of Emperor worship. And so, Peter’s confession of Christ there as Messiah was most timely.
2. He did not fall into the myth of reincarnation theories of their time which those who thought that Christ came back with the spirit of Elijah or John the Baptist had fallen into. But the caveat here was that his concept of the promised Messiah had a political cum military shade – not a suffering Messiah. So, Pentecostals and even Catholics (or any other sects) who think of a brand of Christianity that has come to remove human suffering completely and give us material prosperity had better watch it! Christianity is not just about confessing Christ as Messiah at Caesarea Philippi (blessing time ), but also about acknowledging him as the suffering Messiah at Calvary ( suffering time)!
C. THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE
The greatest challenge of the Christian religion is the challenge of turning our faith into qualitative faith – the challenge of translating our faith from theory to practice. Faith is human accent to God’s plan in his/ her life. Therefore when we claim to have it merely on our lips when we don’t see it in practical life, James says in today’s 2nd reading that that kind of faith is “dead faith”. Let me put it in simple direct terms as the central message of today’s gospel has it that ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of Christ, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow him’. Practical faith is about sacrifice (which usually ends up in martyrdom). Remove the Cross from Christ or remove Christ from your cross and we are face to face with the 2 main tragedies of Christianity: the tragedy of a CROSSLESS CHRIST and that of a CHRISTLESS CROSS.
My homiletic mentor, Vima Dasan, SJ warns everybody : ‘You should on weekends go to Churches where Jesus is the topic of the sermons, but make it a point of duty to listen to a minister who has a sermon to preach and not to one who just has to preach a sermon. And you will come to learn more or less what the world thinks of Christ’. And what does the world think of Christ?
Why is there so many scandals in the Church nowadays? It is because of the failure of the Christians especially Church leaders to embrace the teachings of Christ squarely; both in theory and practice. Period. When suffering is divulged from Christian life, it is a problem; when it is allowed stoically and bravely without faith in Christ, it is a form of atheism.
We have so many varieties of crosses; sicknesses, demotion or disgrace, persecution for righteousness, heartbreak/ different types of marital crosses, poverty, joblessness, humiliating habit, old age, etc. Jesus’ words apply to everyone : ‘You must deny yourself, take up your own Cross and follow me’.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the inevitability of suffering and dying has to be faced. The Lord does not ask us to submit ourselves to pains/ sufferings in a fatalistic or stoic spirit but when we have exercised our faith and prayed sufficiently about such situations, we should be able to discern when God tells us to drink the cup of suffering (Cross).
St Paul says elsewhere: ‘In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body the Church’, Col 1 : 24. The greatest problem of modern day Christianity is that we are no longer ready to add our own quota in completing the mission of Christ. When Christ said ‘It is finished’ he doesn’t mean that the entire Christian project of salvation of mankind is finished but that what he needs to do for our individual salvation is completed. It remains for us to continue from where he stopped. “Blessed are those who mourn” may be a more relevant gospel today than “Rejoice in the Lord always” because, according to Vima Dasan, ‘There can be no true rejoicing until we stop running away from mourning’. Blessing time is suffering time because Christianity is not all about confessing Christ as Messiah at Caesarea Philippi (blessing time) but also about acknowledging him as the suffering Messiah at Calvary (suffering time). Happy Sunday beloved friends!