'You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."' - James 2:8

Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9a) was a favorite of theologian Carroll Stuhlmueller. He reminded his students, "It gives us the best biblical definition of a disciple of God."

But the first part of Deutero-Isaiah's verse 4 is left out of our liturgical selection: "Yahweh God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning He opens my ear that I may hear."

Every morning, God's true disciples hit the floor listening, expecting to hear something they never heard yesterday. The prophet believes they're especially to listen for the voice of the "weary:" those who desperately long to be roused by God's Word.

Psychologist and author Eugene Kennedy mentioned that "one of the main tasks of organized religion should be to make this life more bearable for people, to make it a joyful experience."

All in agreement
It's evident that Deutero-Isaiah, who didn't even know about a heaven/hell afterlife, would have agreed with Kennedy - as would the author of James' letter (James 2:1-18).

The writer believes the weary really aren't helped by someone's promise of a future life that will eradicate the problems they're facing in this life. What about doing something now to get rid of some of those problems?

"Faith itself," he writes, "if it does not have works, is dead. Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works."

Sunday's Gospel (Mark 8:27-35) couldn't mesh better with our first two passages. It provides the first of three steps Mark believes are essential to dying with Jesus. (We'll hear the second step next week, but we'll have to wait five more weeks to learn the third.)

The three are found in chapters 8, 9, and 10. Each follows an identical prediction/misunderstanding/clarification pattern: Jesus predicts His passion, death and resurrection; someone says or does something which shows a total misunderstanding about dying with Jesus; and, finally, Jesus clarifies what dying is all about.

Peter is the first "misunderstander." He "took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him." Jesus cuts him down: "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Keep two points in mind: "Satan," in Hebrew, originally referred to an obstacle in someone's path, and "disciple" in Greek is literally a "go-behinder." Jesus tells Peter that his plan for a "no-death" Christianity is an obstacle to His ministry. If he's a real disciple, he should position himself behind, not in front of Jesus.

Because it would make no sense for Jesus to encourage someone to carry a cross before His own crucifixion, scholars generally believe Jesus originally told His followers to carry their "tau." It's a "T," the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Pious Jews embroidered them on their tunics as an outward sign they were willing to follow Yahweh's will to the extreme, to the tau.

Mark's Jesus basically teaches that the first step in dying with Him is the determination to do whatever God asks of us, no matter the consequences. No doubt, Deutero-Isaiah and the author of James are nodding in agreement.