Homily 24th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok UdoekpoReadings: Isa 50:5-9a; Ps 116:1-9; Jas 2:14-18 and Mark 8:27-35
The Meaning of Christian Suffering!
Many, if not all of us do experience sufferings in one form or the other. I mean we do know what sufferings looks like. It can come to us today in form of hunger, poverty, and protracted illness. It can come to us in the loss of our loved ones, loss of land, property, homes, and treasures, in tragedies, persecutions, bad leaderships, oppression, in the wars nations fight, in wars and acts of terrorism, negligence, actions, or indifference to the well – being our neighbors. Of course, there are some sufferings too, that we may not fully and humanly comprehend! The Bible lessons of today are addressed not only to these sufferings and their causes, but scripture reminds us of how we all were baptized into a Christian communities to daily imitate Christ at all cost, boast in his cross, in our suffering love, and patience endurance, without rebellion!
In today’s first reading (Isa 50:5-9a), the 3rd Song of the Suffering Servant of God, which would eventually points to the sufferings of Christ, prophet Isaiah sings of the experiences of Israel in Babylon during their exile. The Suffering servant speaks specifically in the first person of the enduring suffering that a faithful God’s servant would have to undergo in moments of trials and challenges, which would include the loss of home land, properties, family members, freedom to trade, plant vineyard and even to practice their faith. The suffering servant says, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back” …“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” This servant teaches us how to be aware of God’s presence in our lives and how to endure suffering, knowing that the Lord God who is our helper, will not put us to shame.
In the gospel reading, Christ’s disciples, including Peter, lack this deeper awareness. I want to believe this is why he rebukes Christ, when Our Lord spoke openly that the Son of man was destined to suffer greatly, persecuted, rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days! Of course, this prophecy came to a fulfilment! Peter thought like a human being, like any of us would. But, God often speaks mysteriously to us, even in Christ's ministries, particularly in the events of the Cross of the Calvary which we relive every Holy Week of our liturgical year. The cost of discipleship; the cost of salvation entails sacrifices and endurance, patience, faith, in the midst of trials and sufferings.
Truly there are sufferings that are “artificial and manmade;” such as exploitation of our neighbors, institutional hatred, violent, and injustices committed against others, greed, selfishness, indifference and lack of charity to one’s neighbor. This is what Saint James addresses in the 2nd reading. Saint James asks, What good is it if someone says he or she has faith but lacks compassion and is uncharitable towards his or her neighbors? Words, deeds and good works must go together.
Pope Francis has spoken enough of this! Indifference behavior from richer nations, institutions, towns and individual rich powerful neighbors to poorer ones is as bad as perpetuating any other form of hardship and sufferings on our poor neighbors. Neglecting the poor, the weak, the voiceless, is as bad as pulling their beards and beating their cheeks which the Suffering Servant, 3rd Isaiah, spoke about in the 1st reading. Poverty here is not restricted to material poverty. The young ones who are rich with strength and physical energy in the name of Christ are encouraged to support their seniors, the physically weak, their elders, parents and grandparents. Other examples abounds. Richer nations, for instance, should make education affordable to all. This can go a long way to reduce pains, injuries, and sufferings caused by the disease of ignorance!
Whatever form that we may individually or as a family, group, or Church experience persecutions, exploitation, discriminations, threats to traditional Christian values, trials, sufferings we always want to imitate Christ- his patience, his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, his endurance, his perseverance,-- who generously and selflessly went to the Cross on our behalf!.