Our readings from Isaiah and from the Gospel of Mark confront us with the fact that the invitation to faith leads us into suffering. In Isaiah, the prophet accepts pain and shaming from others, as he trusts in God. In Mark, Jesus is blunt about this: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” When we embrace faith, we are confronted with our own fears about suffering and about losing comfort, status, and control over our lives.
Life has plenty of suffering already, so why choose to add to it? Jesus points to a response: avoiding our fears and clinging to illusion and superficial comforts will not give us what we really want from life. Jesus offers a better, deeper life, a life grounded in God’s love. It is lived in hope of resurrection and the final triumph of this love.
The Gospel of Mark reaches a turning point in today’s passage. About halfway through Mark, Jesus’ disciples begin to understand Jesus as the Messiah (or Christ). And Jesus begins to spell out just what is expected of those who follow him. The story then shifts to learning just what being Christ, and following Christ, actually means. Jesus shatters the expectation of a political or military power defeating Israel’s oppressors, and reveals a different kind of Messiah. The disciples later come to see that this different Messiah offers a different understanding of power, and of life itself.
We inhabit a world that honors power over others, through wealth or achievement or violence. Jesus invites us into a community and a way of life that honors the power of love and service to others. Lived fully, it is truly a different way of life. It is marked by great suffering and great joy, because it embraces the fundamental pattern of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The letter of James is designed to enlarge your faith. James knew that his community faced trials that could lead them to abandon the faith, or perhaps to reduce faith to a comfortable, manageable size. In today’s passage, James calls the reader to resist reducing faith to safe, intellectual assent to teachings, and instead to expand one’s faith to actively engage in good works, especially in service to the poor.
To have a “large” faith is to move from apathy toward others’ sufferings to empathy and to action. A large faith leads to a large heart, where we can take in the enormity of suffering in the world around us, not become overwhelmed by it, and do what we can to relieve it. With a large heart, we can even squarely face our own sufferings, accepting our own tragedies with forgiveness and hope, and walking in empathy with all who share in suffering.BACK TO LIST