Sunday after the Elevation of the Holy Cross Pentecost
19 September 2021
The readings the lectionary prescribes for this Sunday are as follows:
Galatians 2:16–20; Mark 8:34–38; 9:1
Here is a summary of the two readings, as the beginning of reflection:
Galatians 2:16–20 People cannot become righteous by accomplishing the works of (Mosaic) law. Being already crucified with Christ, namely, recapitulated in the Lord’s crucifixion, people become righteous through faith in Christ and through living for God. When they walk after the Son of God, they have Christ living within them. Thus, they participate in the love of the One who gave himself for all of us. There is no way of belonging to Christ if people lead a life incompatible with him.
Mark 8:34–38; 9:1 Being disciples of Christ entails renouncing ourselves and our rebellious will. It entails taking up our cross and following him. Only people who walk on Christ’s path, which is not easy, can save their soul; otherwise their soul is lost. And nothing can compensate the loss of our soul, even if someone were to win the universe in exchange. Furthermore, if people are ashamed to stand up for the Gospel and walk alongside Christ, the Lord will ignore them at his second coming. But there is hope: some of those standing by shall not die before seeing the power of God’s kingdom.
The message of this Sunday emerges at the crossing of the two readings. Before grasping the message, a brief reflection on the readings is in order, by which we explore their common denominators:
Wisdom What is at stake is our soul, our life. God wants us saved, healed, and restored. God wants us to attain the fullness to which we are called. God demands nothing for his own sake. What God demands is for us and must be seen as pedagogically and therapeutically imposed on those who, not yet understanding God’s purpose, still aspire towards restoration and perfection. Truth be told, the Old Testament pedagogy of ordinances and prescriptions no longer matters for the experience of God’s new people. God our Father does not command. Through Jesus Christ, Son of God in truth, Son of Man for our sakes, God delivered the Gospel to guide and instruct us. The Gospel teaches both explicitly through advice and implicitly through the example of Christ’s life, but it never issues ordinances. It is at this juncture that the two readings of this Sunday point out that Christ’s life and death substantiate all divine advice. Christ calls us to walk like him and with him because he walked on that sacrificial path before us, through his crucifixion. Saint Paul knew this very well and, showing his commitment to Christ and his way of life, declared himself crucified with Christ and as living a life centred on God. For us later disciples, walking this path entails willingness to renounce our old ways, to be renewed by imitating the Lord and his saints. The old self and its ways are incompatible with a God-centred life and with the dwelling of Christ within the temple of our lives. No wonder people who live in opposition to Christ or merely without him have no perception of the bountiful grace he pours upon the hearts of believers. That abundant grace, concretely manifested in so many ways in the lives of Christ’s disciples, exceeds all expectation and all earthly gain. Nothing can match it. Nothing can replace it. Therefore, we should live accordingly, as though crucified, so that we might gain the only thing that matters—that which heals, fills, comforts, and fulfils our life.
It is in this light that we can pinpoint the message of this Sunday, which we can further use for personal and ecclesial meditation:
Message The disciples do not receive commandments; they are given the example of Christ, which they should mirror in a corresponding way of life.
This material is excerpted from Doru Costache, Reading Scripture in the Orthodox Church: The Festal Cycle (Sydney: AIOCS Press, 2019) 82–83. The book is available in print and in digital formats.
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