Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

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Thomas R. McCarthy, O.S.A.
Marylake Monastery King City,
Ontario, Canada

Is 50:5-9a
Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Jas 2:14-18
Mk 8:27-35

One thing I really wish I was better at is remembering people’s names. There is nothing more important, in my opinion, than to call someone by their name. When we call someone by their name, it shows that we are in relationship with each other and that we matter to each other. The few times I have been fortunate enough to fly business class, I get a kick out of the flight attendants welcoming me and calling me Mr. McCarthy. I know it is their job to know my name but it does feel good to be called by name.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” When they give him the names of people that they have heard, he goes further and asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus understands the importance of names and the deeper relationship that is possible when we take time to learn someone’s name and enter into a relationship with that person. Jesus shows the depth of that relationship when he asks his disciples and the crowd if they are willing to follow him.

Most of us do not like pain. Most of us do not look for ways to suffer unnecessarily. Most of us will avoid pain and suffering at all costs. So how do we respond when Jesus, whom we call by name, asks us, whom he calls by name, to pick up our cross, deny ourselves and follow him? We will lose our life if we try to save it. Who does not instinctively and actively want to save their own life? I cannot do this Jesus. It is too hard. I do not understand what you are asking me to do. Please do not make me do this. Please do not ask me to do this!

This is how we will respond to Jesus’ requests if we do not know Jesus. But because we do know Jesus and we call him by his name, we are able to do what he asks of us because we believe in him, we know him and we trust in him and his promise. His promise is clear and direct: “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” So, by losing our lives and picking up our cross and following Jesus, we actually are doing exactly what we hoped for in the beginning – to save our life! So, we actually save our life by following Jesus and trusting in him and picking up his cross.

Following Jesus today is not always easy. There are so many reasons why we should not follow Jesus. We can say the Church scandals that pervade our every waking moment should be enough for us to throw up our hands and say enough is enough! I am not following Jesus anymore! The Church has let me down! Though I say, friends, that the Church has not let us down but some leaders of the Church have let us down. We need to be purified and made whole again. We can and must do this by first and foremost, taking care of all victims who have been hurt. Their healing is paramount! Then we must hold accountable all who have perpetuated the hurt and those who have allowed the hurt to happen by their inaction and/or cover-up. I read recently that we should not leave Jesus because of Judas. I could not agree more!

My friends, I am not giving up on Jesus and the Church – the Church being each one of us as brothers and sisters in Christ. People throughout the last two centuries could havedestroyed the Church because of their actions. But the Church is still here because the Church is not a human church but is the real Church built on Jesus Christ and the Church is us! The real Church is what we celebrate today around this Eucharistic table – the Real Presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who will never abandon us and loves us so much that he has every hair on our head counted! This, my friends, is why we must pick up our cross and follow him. It only makes sense when he is the one who makes sense!

It was tough for Jesus’ disciples and the crowds to follow him knowing they would have to suffer. It is tough for us to follow Jesus when we know we have to pick up our cross and follow him today – especially in the midst of uncertainty and doubt. I am begging each one of us to not give up. I am challenging each one of us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus – the one who helps us carry our cross because he carried his cross for each one of us. And we can do this because Jesus knows our name and we know his name.

Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” He is asking each one of us today, “Who do you say that I am?” I hope and pray our answer will be in unison and as strong as we canpossible say: I know who you are! I know your name! You are Jesus, my Lord and Savior!

My brothers and sisters, who do you say Jesus is in your life?