Sunday homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: CROSS WITHOUT CHRIST AND CHRIST WITHOUT CROSS ARE BOTH FUTILE
By: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong at St Mary Magdalene Cath. Church, Omaha, USA.
Homily for Sunday September 12 2021
1. Cross Without Christ. In today’s Gospel reading (Mk 8:27-35), our Lord advertises Chirstianity: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mk 8:34). By ordinary human standards this is a very poor advertisement. Our Lord’s marketing strategy is radically different from the way we human beings generally advertise ourselves and our products in order to get others to become our spouses, to join our company, or to patronize our goods and services. No wonder we take it for granted that adverts should not be taken at face value. Here are a few funny examples. 1. An advert for Bayer’s Aspirin Plus C implied that dinosaurs would have avoided extinction by taking Aspirin Plus C to prevent colds. Neither aspirin, nor vitamin C prevents colds! 2. For years, Activia yogurt claimed it was “clinically and scientifically” proven to regulate digestion and boost immune systems. Owing to those false claims, Dannon was made to pay consumers up to $35 million in damages and change its labeling. 3. Let’s not talk about the long list of things touted as cures for cancer and now coronavirus! And even without the intent to deceive, we often brand and rebrand things to hide aspects that might make people uncomfortable. Today, patients are comfortable with MRI scans. When the same procedure was called NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) imaging, many patients avoided it because of the word “nuclear”! Brothers and sisters, uncomfortable situations are part of life. Whether we like it not, the cross is here: suffering is part of human life. The cross is not new to human existence. Unfortunately, some are carrying their crosses without Christ. We can call that wasted suffering. Yes, human suffering without salvation, without Christ, is futility. Christianity turns random human suffering into a means of salvation when united with the sufferings of Christ the Savior. He advertised it as such: take up your cross and follow me.
2. Christ Without Cross. Today’s 2nd reading (Jas 2:14-18) gives concrete examples of trying to follow Christ, without the cross: “…faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). Yes, faith without good works is dead. Faith in Christ, without good works that entail carrying the cross, is dead. Yes, trying to have Christ without the cross is futile. It will not bring salvation. Seeking the miracles of Christ, without the parables that entail good works inspite of persecutions and difficulties, is futile. Our Lord said so. No wonder each time our Lord called His followers to carry their crosses, He always added: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” Unfortunately, seeking Christ without the cross is a strong temptation for us today just as it was for Peter and other disciples. Why? It is because we are human beings and think as such. Christ points out to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”.
3. Taking up the Cross and Following Christ. Brothers and sisters, we are fortunate that God’s thinking has been revealed to us. So how do we take up our cross and follow Christ? How do we hold on to Christ and the Cross; faith and good works? We have wonderful examples in today’s Scripture readings and among us right now. Our Lord Himself demonstrates in the Gospel reading the attitude needed to carry the cross, the attitude stated in today’s 1st reading (Is 50:5-9a): “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (v.7) Flint is a very hard type of sedimentary rock. When struck against iron, a flint edge produces sparks to start a fire. Setting your face like flint implies that you are expecting some sparks of adversity and opposition, including opposition from friends, from people who genuinely love you but do not understand God’s purpose for you. It means politely telling the “Peters” in your life: “Get behind me Satan”. Finally, examples of taking up the Cross to follow after Christ abounds among us in people who show faith and good works. Last time I celebrated Mass at Gabriel’s Corner, a Pregnancy Care Center at 131 S 16th St, Council Bluffs, Iowa, right opposite an abortion clinic, I could touch faith and good works. Across the sacristy was the ultrasound room for showing the pregnant woman her preborn baby to dissuade her from abortion. Next to the chapel were rooms filled with clothing, food, other material needs of baby and mother, forms for financial assistance, adoption, etc. And permanent Deacon Jean Plourde and his wife, who run the place free of charge, carry the extra cross of constant persecution from the abortion clinic just opposite. But Christ with His Cross, the Gospel of life and love is winning. To God be the glory.