“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
We may have very good intentions to serve God but so long as there is a problem with our theology, we may even be hindering Christ or acting as stumbling blocks against others on the path of salvation.
In today’s liturgy, Peter was called Satan for his false theology. St. James lambasts Christians who, due to their false theology, refuse to provide practical help to the poor and needy. Isaiah, prophesying about the Messiah, makes us understand that suffering is often a part of God’s ultimate plan for our good. Let us now examine our lessons for today in details:
1. Always Examine Your Theology.
It was Socrates who said: “an unexamined life is not worth living.” If an unexamined life is not worth living, then an unexamined Christianity is not worth practicing. Jesus himself teaches us the importance of questioning our theology when he asked his disciples two very vital questions in today’s Gospel passage: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”
Each of us must not only ask ourselves these questions, we must answer them and be sure that our answers are correct! It is not enough that we pray when others are praying or go to church because everybody is going to church, we should ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus for me? Is He just a provider (of my needs) or one who I should obey His word? Did He really say I would never suffer for being His follower? Does He stop being God if my prayers are not answered or if I get to suffer?”
2. Our Theology Speaks for Itself.
Just as the disciples provided false answers, there are many Christians today who see Jesus as a Miracle Worker, a Bread Provider, a Security Man, a Charm, a Swear word, and so on. We see Jesus as something to be used rather than as God to be worshipped. Jesus for many is more of a service provider than a Father! And so when our expectations are not met, we start looking for alternatives.
Still, on false theology, it is so easy for us to forget that this Jesus whom we pray to is present in our brothers and sisters who are poor, suffering, disadvantaged, and in need of our help. We think of Jesus as being up there not knowing He is very much down here in our streets, in the remote and dirty villages. In today’s Second reading, St. James says: “show me your faith apart from your works and I by my works will show you my faith.” A theology that is lacking in charity is false theology.
If you recall, in last Sunday’s second reading, St. James spoke of the evil of discrimination in our Christian assemblies whereby the rich are given pride of place and the poor are tossed aside. A theology that defines poverty as a curse is clearly a false theology. Truth be told, there are many today with ill-gotten wealth who have used their riches to buy for themselves positions of reverence in the church. The fact that a person displays riches does not mean he or she has been blessed by God, they may have bowed to Satan in exchange for the fleeting glories of the world. On the other hand, the fact that you are poor does not mean God has not blessed you. There is more to life than riches.
3. A Cross-less Theology is a false Theology.
Jesus tells us today; “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). Whether we like it or not, Christianity involves self-denial, self-discipline; suffering; embracing lack; giving away one’s life for Christ’s sake. As powerful as the cross, so powerful are those pains, insults, ridicule, and shame we have to put up with for the sake of our Christian Faith.
Do not despise your sufferings, do not reduce your cross, do not abandon the narrow path; do not try to be like everyone else, do not get tired of doing good even when your goodness seems unrewarded and unappreciated. Jesus never told us to expect only bliss, He never promised us a life of milk and honey on this earth.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10-12). In another passage, Jesus said: “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).
Peter, like many Christians today had a cross-less theology; a theology that says “God forbid” to suffering; a theology that desires glory but rejects self-discipline; a theology of the wide and easy road of pleasure. Such theology is plainly satanic.
4. God Writes Straight on Crooked Lines.
Have you ever had a very painful experience that eventually changed your entire life to the extent that you found yourself thanking God for letting you experience that painful situation in the first place? Dear friends, we serve a God who knows how to bring out the best from the worst.
St. Paul would assure us that “all things” (including our tears and pains) “work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). St. Augustine added: “Since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” The book of Hebrews puts it thus: “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” (Hebrews 12:5-7)
Remember Joseph of the Old Testament, when eventually he re-united with his brothers, they were so scared Joseph would repay them for the evil they meted out on him but Joseph said: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:20-21). When we read in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has plans for us, we must bear in mind that part of that plan is that at some point, we would undergo some amount of suffering.
In today’s first reading, Isaiah prophesies of the coming Messiah saying: “I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting… I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:5-7). This was exactly the mind-set of Jesus Christ when he rebuked Peter in today’s Gospel passage.
Jesus knew that no matter what He had to face, He would never be put to shame. This should be your mind-set too. Are you currently suffering? Do not think God has failed. Hold on, remain steadfast. Don’t give up on God. One day, you too will rejoice.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help me carry my daily cross joyfully and save me from falsehood. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 50:5-9, Psalm 116:1-9, James 2:14-18 and Mark 8:27-35).