24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In today’s First Reading, part of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Our Lord reminds us that sometimes he needs to open our ears, just like he did for Peter in today’s Gospel. Listening and hearing are two different things. Hearing just means something within earshot is buzzing in our ears. Listening means cocking our head, trying to get our ear a little closer, trying to understand what we’re hearing. Hearing is something passive—the noise just pops into your ears. Listening is something active—it requires a decision on our part. We’ve all received our faith as a gift—by revealing himself to us, the Lord has opened our ears to hear and listen to his Word. Sometimes we can take that for granted, and if we don’t put it into action, soon we stop listening to God’s Word in our lives, and instead it is just some more noise in our ears.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives the disciples a pop quiz to see how much they’re listening. At first the disciples think he is just asking them about what the crowd thinks about him. But then he turns the tables on them: who do they say that he is? They pass the first part of the quiz: the disciples have taken a step closer to Our Lord, they’ve been active, they’ve been listening. The crowd doesn’t need to do much more than be there; they’ve “heard” things about Jesus, they’re curious, but they haven’t tried to draw closer to him yet. The second part of the quiz doesn’t turn out so well. Peter couldn’t imagine that Jesus could do anything other than become a great military and political ruler. He was hearing, but he still needed to do a little more listening to Our Lord, who was trying to teach them that the Messiah and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah were one and the same. After Our Lord had seen his disciples believe he was the Messiah, he opened his heart to them, and St. Peter spoke a little for all of them and basically said the Messiah shouldn’t act like Jesus said he would. The disciples failed the second part of the quiz. God had opened their ears, like the Suffering Servant in the First Reading, but, unlike the First Reading, they were rebelling about what they were hearing. And Jesus knew that this lesson, the lesson of the cross, was the most important lesson of Christian life.

The disciples learned the lesson eventually, and passed it along to us. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us when that voice whispers in our ears and tells us the cross is not necessary, and cast it out as decisively as he helped St. Peter.

Readings: Isaiah 50:5–9a; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35.