The Demonstration of Faith

A Reflection for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Isaiah 50:5-9 – James 2:14-18 – Mark 8:27-35.

The sight of the work of a weaverbird is astounding. Just imagine the female weaverbird making a beautiful, waterproof nest for herself and her brood. What a wonderful work of art and craftsmanship it is. Do you know the tale of the Weaverbird and the Monkey? No matter if you don’t, it begins as follows:

“One day, the monkey swung his way to a tree in which a weaverbird had her nest. It began to rain really hard. Despite the heavy rain, the weaverbird stayed nice and dry and comfortable in her nest, while the monkey in the fork of the tree got soaked to the skin. The weaverbird peered out of her nest to ask the sopping-wet monkey, “How come a creature like you, endowed with hands and feet and strength, gets drenched in this rain, while a tiny little bird like me, endowed with only a beak and claws and willpower, can build a snug and dry house to protect me from the rain? If I had your attributes, monkey, I’d be able to build a jaw-droppingly wonderful house”.

Well, I won’t tell you the rest of the story, other than to say that her comments didn’t go down well with the monkey. What I want to comment on is the imagination of the weaverbird, the projection of what she could do if only she had the hands and feet and strength of the monkey. The tiny little bird was critical of the monkey for not exploiting his potential fully.

This leads me to today’s theme regarding the demonstration of our faith in God and His Church, not only in words but in taking action, incorporating the richness of our personal faith into the activities of our daily life rather than leaving it unexploited in the secular world. St James in the 2nd reading prompted us to action when he wrote, I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds (v.18). He wasn’t sitting in an ivory tower: he himself was taking action.

In the 1st reading, Isaiah spoke prophetically of the sacrifices Our Lord would have to make and the sufferings He would have to face in fulfilling His redemptive mission: I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle (v.6 cf. Mt 16:67). Isaiah himself would prove his faith and trust in God by responding to His call to divine
service and by accepting the consequences.

The Gospel reading today is the turning-point of the Gospel, in which Peter (in his primacy) confesses Jesus as the Christ (v.29). The explanation that followed (v.31) was certainly not what the disciples expected, and they didn’t take it on board until after the resurrection. Jesus told them about His impending ordeal (His redemptive work of ultimate self-sacrifice) to which Peter objected. Jesus responded, Get behind me, Satan! (v.33). Note that He didn’t say “Get behind me, Peter!”. Why not? Because He realized that Satan was using Peter as a human portal in an attempt to deter Him from His mission. And what was Jesus’ mission? To overcome sin and death which come from the Evil One (cf. Lk 22:31). Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, but his understanding of what that meant was only partial until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and God, we have to make that confession both verbally and in practical terms. Our faith has to be demonstrated. How do we set about doing that? By placing our complete trust in Christ to lead us, by listening carefully to His prompts, and by taking action accordingly. Peter made the mistakes of trying to lead Jesus, of not accepting what He was saying, and of trying to impose his own will upon Him. ‘Allowing Christ to lead us’ means opening ourselves up to acceptance of God’s will and allowing the will of God to be prioritized in all things. We, like the Suffering Servant, must say with Isaiah for my part, I made no resistance (v.5). Allowing the will of God to be carried out through us will inevitably entail some sacrifice and pain; at times our human nature rebels and inclines towards taking the easy way out, but it is essential that we do our utmost to do the will of God.

We also demonstrate our faith when we deliberately renounce our attachment to earthly wealth and pleasures. The things of the world are so attractive, aren’t they, but they can impact our relationship with God adversely. Yes, of course we need to retain enough earthly assets for our daily upkeep and other needs; it is when we place too great a value on them (e.g. to the detriment of the practice of Christian charity) that we are guilty of attachment to them. This leads me to my final point. We demonstrate our faith when we pay attention to the sufferings of those less-privileged than we are and we take action to alleviate their misery. An example is given in the 2nd reading about our personal attitude to those who need food and clothing. We demonstrate our faith by becoming actively involved in carrying out the Corporal Works of Mercy – in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and so on (cf. Mt 25:35ff). It’s easy to see why active ministry combined with prayer is capable of carrying out God’s will more fully and more quickly than going on our knees to pray for other people to help the suffering, because the help is itself the answer to their prayers. On the other hand, we have to be sure exactly whom God is calling to help. We have to allow Christ to lead us. It may not be our call.

To sum up, if you want to be a true follower of Christ, practise these three things. Renounce yourself including your attachment to the things of the world. Take up your cross and accept the sufferings that come your way in life. Follow Him and allow Him to lead you, instead of attempting to boss Him. Always act in accordance with God’s will rather than yours, and do those things that are pleasing to God (including being charitable in every sense). As you walk with Jesus, be on the alert to command ”get behind me, Satan!” to anything that is contrary to what Jesus taught about demonstration of faith and being a true disciple of His. Amen. God bless you.