True Identity of Jesus!: 25th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB –
24th Sunday of the year
Sermon and Christian act in the Word
Theme: True Identity of Jesus!“You are the Messiah: the christ” the Anointed One!
Point of Reflection: Why are we called Christians, not Jesusians? The name Christian is from the word Christ who is our Messiah; the word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”
We are called Christians because we are followers of Christ and the true identity of Jesus is both divine and human, and today, the Scripture readings are elucidating that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and the Suffering Servant.
First Reading: Isaiah 50:5–9
Psalm: Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Second Reading: James 2:14–18
Gospel: Mark 8:27–35
Sermon (Reflection): This Sunday’s readings invite us to reflect on the True Identity of Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah. This Messiah is the suffering servant; this Messiah is the long-awaited saviour. As followers of Christ, we need to be ready to carry the cross, to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The first reading features the third of the four “servant songs” found in the book of Isaiah. This song begins in Isaiah 50:4, which shows that the servant is a teacher. He has been taught by God and willingly received this instruction. However, he also faced oppression and persecution. He was struck on the back, his beard was pulled out, and he was insulted and spat upon. While the reason for this suffering remains hidden, it might justifiably be assumed that he suffered because of his adherence to the teaching he had received.
Still, the servant did not abandon his commitment but faced his opponents with courage and determination. His trust and dependence on God, together with the experience of God’s presence, gave him the strength to persevere. With God on his side, the adversaries are powerless to stop him. In the end, the servant will prevail, while his opponents will “wear out like a garment”.
This is the same way Jesus Christ suffered; He was insulted and spat on, but still remained faithful to His Father, this is a reminder to us the Christians that we will encounter insults and rejections but Christ is always available to us and no human being is above Jesus Christ.
The servant in today’s passage was likely a leader or a teacher who supported and advocated strict adherence to God, and to God’s Law in which he was schooled. The phrase, “I was not rebellious”, indicates his choice of not joining the party of those who rebelled against God and God’s ways. Such an uncompromising stand brought him ridicule and persecution. This teacher chose to uphold his commitment to God and God’s Law, despite the heavy price he had to pay. Is it a Christian calling today to always not be rebellious against God but to understand that Jesus is the Christ and Messiah.
The second Scripture reading (Cf. James 2:14–18) indicates that some Christians misunderstood Paul’s teaching on faith found at Galatians 2:16, “we know that the person is made righteous, not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ”. These misguided believers thought that faith meant a set of ideas that needed to be held true in a person’s head. Thus, if faith was only a set of doctrines to be believed, there was no need to do anything else about it. This was a misreading of Paul who was speaking of “works of the law”, meaning the continuing practise of such Jewish customs as circumcision, dietary laws, purity laws and observance of the Jewish feasts, among others. Paul never denied that faith must express itself in practical ways, particularly through love (Cf. Gal 5:6).
St James clarifies these misunderstandings, insisting on the practical expression of faith; true faith is reflected in deeds. James does not deny that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. However, how can one tell if faith is truly present? James states that true faith can be distinguished from imagined faith by looking at the person’s behaviour.
There is no such thing as an unexpressed faith. Faith without corresponding actions is an illusion.
James provides a single example of the works of faith – concern for the underprivileged. If a person does not sustain a fellow Christian in need, then their faith is a deception. True faith, the faith that saves, is a matter of commitment to Jesus in the heart, and committing the body to faithful service.
The Gospel passage of today commonly known as the “the confession of Peter”, relates to a turning point in Jesus’ life. Prior to this event, Jesus was primarily concerned with performing deeds of power, such as casting out demons and healing the sick. However, these good and noble acts were not the chief reason for his coming into the world and not the core of his mission.
Seeing Jesus’ amazing deeds, the people identified him with one of the prophets, someone equal to John the Baptist or even Elijah. By asking questions about his identity, “who do people say that I am?”, and then, “who do you say that I am?”, Jesus indicated that the time had come to reveal who he is and what he has come to accomplish.
Responding, Peter correctly identified Jesus as “the Messiah”. This must have been a sign for Jesus that the time to disclose the definitive purpose of his life and mission has come. Thus, for the first time, Jesus began to speak of his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
Jesus Christ’s frank and open acknowledgement that a cruel death lies ahead, must have been difficult even for Jesus, who, after all, was a real human being. It also implied that Jesus had to accept and commit himself to the terrifying prospect of crucifixion. While confidence in the resurrection certainly gave him strength, as a human being he still must have been afraid of the future ahead.
Peter reacted to Jesus’ disclosures with understandable upset and denial. He had other ideas about Jesus’ purpose and sought to turn Jesus away from the chosen path. Jesus called him “Satan”, because, by trying to change Jesus’ mind, Peter was standing in the way of God’s plans. Today too as Christians, we may be satan(s) and blocking other people on the way to salvation.
Jesus also indicated that those who wish to be his disciples must, like him, embrace the path of self-sacrifice. The path to enduring life, to salvation, follows the trail laid by Jesus himself. Jesus did not seek death, but he understood that overcoming death by embracing it is the only way to life. For this reason, he came into the world and committed himself to the project of salvation, even though it meant walking the path of suffering. In our life, sometimes we need to embrace suffering for a good course.
Christian Act in Word of God: “Jesus is Christ, the Messiah”
The good news today is the assurance that the Lord God is at our side as we make our faith commitment in choosing Jesus as the Saviour, as Christ, as the Messiah, and as the suffering servant . The first reading shows the suffering servant having confidence in God’s presence despite the oppression and persecution he was going through. God gives him the strength to stand firm and persevere. The servant’s perseverance and commitment saw him rise above his opponents. He chose to stand by God’s teaching, and his commitment dispelled the fear which would have made him run away. He was assured of God’s protection. He paid the price for his commitment, but the reward was much greater.
God is ever-present in our daily lives as we struggle to discern between the voices that sway us. We need to call upon God’s name whenever we are tossed by the storms of life. He will enlighten us to make the right decisions in our faith.
Today’s readings also invite us to demonstrate our faith commitments through our actions. The second reading emphasises that our faith must be visible through deeds. Faith is life, and life is lived in relationship with others.
Our behaviour, actions and thoughts communicate our faith. Each day we encounter people from different walks of life – the hungry, the less privileged, the homeless, and the needy of all kinds. What choices do we make in front of these individuals?
Do I recognise them, do I feel concern even in my “limitedness”, do I go an extra mile to recognize them as my brothers and sisters and thus share fellowship with them? True faith animates us to be at the service of others through our deeds.
The Gospel presents to us a turning point in Jesus’ life. Faced with choices, Jesus committed himself wholeheartedly to fulfilling his mission irrespective of impending suffering.
Jesus invites us to examine our lives, and make a decisive commitment to him and his ways. As we contemplate this commitment, let us examine ourselves, especially thinking about what makes us hesitate and waver.
It could be those we call our friends, just like Peter who attempted to stop Jesus. It could be fear of the consequences that may come with the new path. May we realise that our present suffering is a door to eternity.
Action: I will accept my present sufferings as Jesus Christ is with me as my saviour.
Prayer: Almighty God, the suffering and death of your Son Jesus has opened the door for us; the gate of salvation., May we also understand that our present suffering is the gate to the glory of God and better things in life. Give us the spirit of understanding that we be true disciples of Christ by realising that Jesus is Christ, the messiah and is the anointed one, we ask this through the same Christ our Lord, Amen.