Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Today’s Gospel passage is the turning point in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus asks his disciples an innocent-enough question: “Who do people say that I am?” And we hear the various ways that people are seeing Jesus. Then Jesus asks the crucial question: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds: “You are the Christ – the Messiah.”

We heard Jesus begin to tell them that he, the Messiah, is going to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise after three days. Peter is shocked and begins to argue with Jesus. Imagine his surprise when Jesus calls him “Satan.” “You’re not thinking as God does, but rather as human beings do.” And Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that, in order to follow him, they will have to take up their cross. They will have to lose their life in order to save it.

If they weren’t confused at first, they must be very confused now. Do I want to follow someone who offers me suffering and self-denial? That’s not a very appealing invitation.How is this “good news”?

What is “God’s thinking” that Jesus is talking about? We need to look at the larger picture of Jesus’ message. St. John tells us: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we might have life.” Jesus has come to show us how much God loves the world. He reveals God’s great desire for us – that we share in divine life and love. Jesus loves us so much that he is willing to give his own life for us – to suffer and die – so that we can be reconciled to God and share God’s life.

The Father’s love for Jesus is so great that Jesus’ willing death for us is transformed into new life in the resurrection. Self-denial and suffering are not ends in themselves. They are the inevitable consequences of unconditional love. When love is patterned on divine love, no cost is too great for the one who loves.

Divine love is always life-giving – eternal life-giving. Jesus’ love was so focused on us that self-denial and suffering, even death on the cross, became the means of salvation and reconciliation. You and I now share in God’s life and love because Jesus’ love for us was unconditional.

Jesus offers us the challenge: love one another as I have loved you. Loving others as Jesus loved will have its costs. Jesus has shown us that the costs are life-giving. When we embrace self-denial, suffering, and even death, because we love, they will always lead us to resurrection – new life – eternal life.

May we know Jesus’ great love for us and learn to love generously as Jesus did.