We pray with our experiences of being faithful. There is a tension between what we say we will do and our doing it. In big things and little, remaining committed to our word is the journey of our relying also on God's fidelity.
We also prepare to be members of the Eucharistic Community by reflecting upon all the members of that community, living and dead, who have lived through the crosses, disappointments, and resurrections of their lives. The "Communion of Saints" includes also those with whom we will stand to hear the Gospel and with whom we will walk to receiving Communion and with whom we will be sent to embrace our calls to faithfulness. The tension within which we pray is always centered around whether it is all worth the effort, pain, and trusting.
We will hear in the First Reading the "Third Servant Song" from the prophet Isaiah. It is usually heard as the First Reading for the mass of Palm Sunday. It is united closely in theme, to the Suffering Servant Song a few chapters later.
These fifteen chapters, (40-55), are dedicated to bringing hope into the lives of the people of Israel who are still in captivity. This "song" is a proclamation by the prophet himself about how he will endure any suffering at all, because the God Who will protect him is the same God who will bring Israel out of exile. The prophet announces that for all his words of hope he has been disgraced and suffered for his message. He has remained true to his calling, and relies totally on his God.
The reading ends with a typical theme of a court trial. God will be his lawyer if anybody wishes to dispute his mission of bringing hope by staying faithful to all he has heard and believed.
In last-week's Gospel, Jesus cured a person from not being able to hear or speak. The next verses after that story, relate a curing of a person from not being able to see. Ears to hear, and eyes to see is the redemptive mission of Jesus. What is to be heard and seen is Jesus as The Redeemer.
Our Gospel today follows immediately after these two physical, but deeper-than-that miracles. Peter and the other disciples are going to have their ears and eyes checked. How have they heard and seen Jesus? Maybe they receive Him as a wonder-worker, quite a magic man. Jesus asks them, as they walk along, about what they have heard "on the street" about him? What are others saying, how have they heard and seen him?
The disciples make their reports about who people are saying He is. Then the big one is directed to how do they know Him. Peter's answer becomes a highpoint in Mark's presentation of the life and mission of Jesus. Peter says it for all those who have heard and seen Jesus through the pages of the Gospel up to this point. Jesus is the Christ! No one has publicly said this until right here and the seven and one half chapters of miracles, parables, teachings, and travelings have slowly brought Peter and Mark's readers to this declaration of faith.
The miracles and teachings continue immediately; Jesus indicates that His being the Christ will result in His suffering and death. Peter has more learning to do and he gets a bit of a scolding for his not wanting Jesus to continue His being such a "suffering Servant" of God. This tension forms a further teaching for those who, by reading the whole Gospel, also affirm that Jesus is the Christ. There are consequences to being a follower. Jesus is saying that He indeed is the Christ and will suffer with that and says, as we say, "Follow me?" Then He says, not as a question, but an invitation, "Follow me!" The paradoxical tension is between winning and losing. Jesus predicts His winning ultimately by His losing and those who wish to win with Him will have to deny their desires and drives to win. For Jesus it comes down to living faithfully the good He is and because of the ways of humanity, the good is an insult. Living and doing the good will put Him and His followers in conflict with the forces about whom, Jesus is making His sufferings and death a part of his prediction.
In our part of the world farmers are harvesting and gardeners are picking their vegetables over which they have labored for months. Jesus used the image of good seed and weeds to describe the tensions between good and evil. Those who have watered their gardens have spent bent-back hours pulling weeds whose tiny relatives were waiting to replace their fallen weed-folks. Why do weeds grow faster, larger and more abundantly than the tender vegetables? If there were no weeds gardening would be even more a joy. If following Jesus did not involve conflicting with the ways of this fallen world, there would be more followers and more harvesting of the good.
In our country, Martin L. King tried to do the good for racial justice and died for doing that. By his death there has been an increase in our country of racial acceptance. Others died for the same cause and greater life has resulted. The Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador spoke of the possibility and inevitability of their being taken captive or murdered for their teachings on land reform and social justice in that country. Their predictions proved true as well. Jesus knew in this same way that He was heading for a deadly conflict by trying to bring the true life to this world.
We would probably side with Peter and try to talk Jesus out of His mission and thereby relieve the tensions we feel by professing that He is the Christ, the Savior and the One we will follow by denying ourselves, picking up our crosses and engaging the conflicts with this weedy world.
"O God, how much we value your mercy! All mankind gather under your protection." Ps. 37, 8
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