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Following a Suffering Messiah

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(09-13-09) The story of our lives is basically a love story between God and ourselves. You and I are constantly called to the lifelong challenge to respond with ears and hearts of love to the scriptural Word of the Lord to assist us in deepening our response to Jesus, the Word made flesh. Today and for a few more Sundays the evangelist Mark serves as our guide. For Mark Jesus is a teacher, healer, miracle worker and a suffering Messiah. In Mark's gospel Jesus shows us the way to respond to God with courage and hope-no matter the sufferings or hardships in our lives.

Jesus on this journey to Jerusalem with his young disciples---and the women and men who gravitated to him-has been teaching them about the Kingdom of God. He expresses this teaching in stories that he calls "parables". In his acts of healing he has revealed his Father's kingdom in action: God working for the poor and suffering and showing his fatherly-motherly care for them. As I mentioned last Sunday the healing miracles of Jesus are signs of God's kingdom in the person of Jesus.

Two main considerations spring from the Gospel passage: what is the identity of Jesus? And what does it mean to follow him?

You and I nod our heads that Peter was on target in identifying Jesus as "the Messiah" -- another term for "the Christ". . .the "Anointed One". But he is "off base" about the kind of Messiah that he probably has in mind. He could well have imagined, as did many others-the majority of Jews at that time, --that the Messiah would be a "military hero, wise ruler, and just judge for Israel"-quite a job description for anyone to fill. Peter had to learn --and perhaps you and I have to learn as well- that Jesus came to be a suffering Messiah-a Messiah who cannot be properly understood independent of the mystery of the cross. The real Messiah will have to suffer and die before his resurrection. Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, sees suffering as part of his mission. Out of loving faithfulness to the one whom he calls Father he embraces the mystery of the cross.

Our second consideration flows directly from our focusing on Jesus as a suffering Messiah. He invites you and me to become his disciples. To accept this invitation means that we must take up the cross- -to accept the cost, the consequences that are involved in our struggle to meet the challenge of living as disciples of Jesus .

To be a disciple of Jesus is to embrace the mystery of the cross, and follow him, the suffering Messiah. Friends, we need to avoid a common misunderstanding. Embracing the cross does not mean accepting and internalizing every kind of suffering. You and I don't have to accept verbal or physical abuse. Illness or disease is not the cross. Jesus is speaking about the suffering that comes our way as a result of our following him. That kind of suffering that results from our following Jesus is an expression of God's will for us and as benefiting others.

The suffering that Jesus is speaking about is the suffering involved in our efforts to live as his disciples. It is not the suffering that comes from illness or disease, from being deaf or from being blind, from being jilted, losing a job, wounded or from being crippled in a car accident-- the suffering that anyone can have.

Friends all, each one of us needs to reflect on the cost, the consequences involved in our following Jesus. There is a graced struggle in our spiritual growth as we surrender to the love of Jesus for us. Daily we need to place Jesus and the "common good" at the center of our lives. Be we single, married, partnered, professed religious or ordained, well-off or "down and out", God in his love for us gives us the grace to say "yes" to his love. For some very few the struggle may well involve martyrdom.

We are always growing, maturing as we deepen in our knowledge and love of Jesus.. . . in accepting his love for us and living out what that means. Sister Barbara Reid, scripture scholar highlights today's second reading from Saint James when she writes:

"If one meets a sister or brother without adequate clothing or food or shelter, to deny oneself and take up the cross demands letting go of time and resources in self-surrender to the neediest ones. Simply talking about faith and not making it visible in terms in concrete deeds of self-surrender is not authentic discipleship."

In the presence of another person's love or deep friendship for us, you and I can somehow always "stand tall." . The story of our lives is a love story between God and us. Walking with Jesus, ever growing to live in his love for each of us in her and his uniqueness, you and I find ourselves thinking and speaking and doing what we would not have been capable of thinking or speaking or doing on our own.

The lyrics sung by that superb artist, Josh Gobran come to mind.

When I am down, and, oh my soul, so weary.
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise up. . . to more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise up. . . to more than I can be.

Read other homilies by Father Paul