Today’s readings remind us that hearing something and listening to it are two different things.
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 to Peter in the Gospel today. 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 more noise in our ears. The Suffering Servant takes the blows received for serving God, knowing that God is on his side and that his service has a greater meaning. He doesn’t complain or give God a hard time about what he’s suffering to fulfill his mission, because he knows the Lord is at his side. Our Lord also teaches his disciples in the Gospel today that the prophecy of the Suffering Servant refers to him. Suffering is part of Christian life, and that suffering leads to salvation.
In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that faith and works go hand in hand. They show we have not just heard Our Lord’s word but listened. The Word of God is a call to repentance and baptism, but it is also a call to action. As St. James reminds us today, listening to God’s Word leads us to action. If we remain passive, just hearing God’s word, our faith will remain weak and will not transform our life or anyone else’s. When our works reflect our faith it shows we’re listening.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives the disciples a pop quiz to see how much they’re listening. Peter is never shy about speaking up, and answers Jesus’ question straight away: you are the Christ. Peter has listened to the first part of the message. The disciples have taken a step closer to Our Lord, they’ve been active, they’ve been listening, and that has drawn them closer to Our Lord. The crowd, on the other hand, 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.
Jesus’ disciples have passed the first test, and Our Lord opens his heart to them and explains how salvation will work. It was time for another lesson. Our Lord is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, and he reveals to his disciples something the Jews never would have imagined just by reading the Old Testament: the Messiah had to suffer and die to save the world. Peter’s response to this revelation is something that stirs up, to one degree or another, each of our hearts when the Lord opens our ears and we listen to him.
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. After Our Lord had seen his disciples believed 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 didn’t act like Jesus said he would. Therefore, the disciples failed the second test. 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.
Jesus knew that this lesson, the lesson of the cross, was the most important lesson of Christian life. It’s so important a lesson that Jesus says something shocking to Peter when he tries to convince him not to take the path of suffering and the cross. He tells him he is thinking as men do, not as God does, and tells him he is like Satan: that little whisper in our ears that tells us that life should be lived without suffering, without crosses. Jesus backs up his lesson about the cross with a promise: whoever loses their life for Him and for the Gospel will save it. Everything we sacrifice in this world, big and small, will lead us to a life that is fuller and more fulfilling.
Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s First Reading also reminds us that we must forgive the injustice of our neighbor if we don’t want to be consumed by a sinful wrath that will cause our own condemnation. We have all experienced the temptation to nurse a grudge against someone and to be too angry to forgive. As we nurse a grudge we stop listening to our better judgment or the counsel of friends and family who are not fuming. Our anger drowns out good advice. Let’s not forget that Cain heard the Lord, but stopped listening to him when he slew Abel (see Genesis 4:1-10).
Readings: Isaiah 50:5–9a; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.