Selfless love needs service (and sometimes sacrifice)
What does it mean to love selflessly? How do we live out self-sacrificial love? Today’s readings highlight the mentality and actions that are needed to truly practice the Gospel message of love.
Is 50:5-9; Ps 116; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
What can you do to love selflessly?
How do you live out your faith through your actions?
In the Gospel from Mark, Jesus speaks with his disciples about himself and his mission. He questions how people perceive him, and he understands that many misunderstand and reject him. Jesus also anticipates his own suffering, death and resurrection, giving the first of three Passion predictions. Peter vocally rejects and rebukes Jesus’ claims about his suffering, and Jesus responds with a rebuke of his own: “Get behind me, Satan!” Mark also shows Jesus rebuking when he acts with miraculous power, rebuking spirits and the tumultuous storm. Jesus’ stern response halts Peter’s resistance and calls on him and all of the disciples to understand and accept his mission.
The language and imagery used to describe Jesus’ suffering echoes the first reading from Isaiah, which is one of the suffering servant songs. The passage describes someone who is beaten and humiliated but who perseveres despite suffering, with divine assistance: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” The Lectionary situates Isaiah’s poem with the Passion prediction in Mark, allowing us to see parallels and understand how and why Jesus will suffer.
In addition to his own suffering, Jesus forecasts the suffering of his followers, and he urges them to accept the realities of being his disciples. Moreover, Jesus connects discipleship with service, instructing his followers to deny themselves and tend to the needs of others. By taking up the cross, the disciples not only acknowledge the physical suffering and possible death that comes with being a follower of Christ, but also commit to taking on the needs of their communities, living and working selflessly for the sake of others. Jesus models self-sacrificial love through his death on the cross, and his followers are similarly called to live selflessly for the sake of others.
The second reading from James echoes this sentiment in important ways. The letter calls on the community not only to have faith but to act on account of that faith, and it bluntly affirms “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James gives a tangible example of a person in need of clothing and food: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” This example and poignant question are at the heart of the Gospel’s call to love. Love is actively caring for the needs of others. Jesus’ command to bear the cross propels his followers to actively engage in the world, not only having faith in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, but taking those actions as models for how we serve one another.
Today’s readings reveal the difficulty in truly being a Christian. They show us the risks that may come in the form of humiliation, persecution and death. They also highlight the work that needs to be done in order to live out Christ’s call to love.