He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. Mark 8:33
My niece, Samantha, is going to college in Africa, far from her comfortable home and life in the US. Her e-mails are a remarkable journal of discovery and appreciation of the new culture as well discoveries about her own life at home. Education is so prized and sought after that she described classrooms jammed full with eager students filling every chair, standing around the walls, crowding the doorways and hanging in windows, just to hear the lecture.
When she met a young man on the street and he learned where she went to school, he said how much he would love to attend, but “it’s only for the rich kids.” Samantha, whose college tuition is a patchwork resulting from grants, loans and long hours of waitressing back home wanted to protest that she wasn’t rich. She writes, “My first instinct was to say, ‘We’re just poor college students like you.’ But I can’t. I can’t say that all.”
There is a discomfort for any of us in realizing that what we think of as a moderate or modest lifestyle is for most of the world lavish beyond imagining. That discomfort is at the heart of today’s readings because it is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings.
In the first reading from James, we are told not to “show partiality” to one with gold rings and fine clothes and not to ignore “the poor person with shabby clothes.” Of course we wouldn’t, we can assure ourselves, but our culture is completely structured to honor the wealthy and ignore the poor, just as it was in Jesus’ time.
In Mark’s gospel today, Jesus and his disciples are traveling between villages and he asks them who they believe he is. “You are the Christ,” Peter acknowledges. But as soon as Jesus begins to describe what it means to be Christ – rejection, suffering and death – Peter tries to discourage Jesus from talking about it.
I always want to avoid the most uncomfortable situations, from conflict to rejection. But if I am really a follower of Christ, I have to do more than just offer lip service. It’s not enough to say I am a follower of Jesus as Peter does. I have to live it and accept all that it means.
I have to be more aware of the agony of people around the world, in Darfur, in the Middle East and in my own country. I have to grapple with the fact that Mary, an older woman I know who lives on the tiniest of incomes, is in pain because Congress cut her physical therapy, while giving me a tax refund I don’t need. Not only did I not protest this cut, my “busy” life meant I barely followed it in the news.
James writes, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom…?” Catholic social teaching has long promoted a “preferential option for the poor” but like the disciples in today’s gospel, it’s too easy for me to say, “Wait a minute, Jesus, you’re scaring us with this kind of talk. What is all this suffering and rejection? Can’t you just talk to us about love and sharing?”
But if Jesus takes his place alongside the poor, it will involve
suffering and rejection, and deaths of various kinds. That is the
invitation he extends to me, to all of us, as his followers. “Go
deeper into my love. Stand next to me in this life. Help me love
and protect those who are most helpless.”
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook