Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 16 September 2012
Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 114:1-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Faith isn’t positive thinking or a list of things that we say we believe. It is the way our whole life is oriented because of what we hold to be ultimate and where our most fundamental commitments lie. St James tells us that it isn’t what we say but what we do that most accurately reflects our faith. Indeed, if it is all talk and no compassionate action, then our faith is worthless. His example is stark. What use is it to wish someone well and then not act within our power to help them? Our inaction would demonstrate that our basic commitment is not to the wellbeing of the other, whatever we might say to the contrary. And if we don’t love our neighbour, how can our talk of loving God have any reality behind it?
Jesus’ faith in God and his own awareness of who he was and what he was to do took him down a path of growing opposition from the powerful. Peter didn’t want to hear this. For him, faith was about believing that amazing things were happening, and that he was a part of them. He was right, but mistaken at the same time. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to announce him as messiah yet. Their understanding had to grow first. Their simplistic notions of Jesus bringing in the Kingdom of God through a display of power that annihilated the enemies of the people of God had to be transformed through the experience of death and resurrection.
A Christian reading of the servant song in Isaiah 50 recognises Jesus in the prophet’s words. But in the first instance they were probably autobiographical, describing the prophet’s own experience. They could also be about us. The servant has heard God and committed him- or herself to obeying that voice even though that route leads to persecution. Now faith isn’t masochism, but it does not let itself be deflected by human opposition. Nor does faith allow violence to transform it into the opposite of itself, which is what would happen if the servant either ran away or struck back. Faith stands firm.
Why does faith impel us to act even when things appear hopeless? It is because our faith is in God who brings life out of death. With the psalmist we can testify that our God saves. When we live out of our commitment to and absolute trust in God, when we are willing to lose our lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel, we will find Life.