Published Tue, 14/09/2021 by

Homily on Mark 8.27-35

One of the greatest composers of the 20th century was the black musician, Edward Ellington – commonly known as ‘Duke’ Ellington.  Pianist, band leader, arranger & composer he was recognised as the most accomplished of all jazz musicians in his own lifetime.

Reading about Ellington’s life, however, it’s clear what a price this dedicated musician paid for his achievements.  The Duke was always on the move, from gig to gig, concert to concert, state to state, and with fame as he grew older continent to continent.   His was a nomadic life – and one which many of his loyal band members were prepared to share with him.  A significant number were with him for the long haul, members of his band for over 50 years.  Ellington inspired a common loyalty to their muse in them as well

Some might ask, was music their loyalty – or their obsession?  That’s a question you can sometimes legitimately ask in certain situations, but in others it’s highly inappropriate.  No one asks it of a loving parent, for example, and if they did they’d get a dusty answer.

No, the price for every meaningful achievement in life, each vocation, every high endeavour is … commitment, commitment, commitment.  It’s true for all top athletes, as Emma Raducanu will now discover, and for dedicated teachers, hard-working medics, nurses, politicians, shop keepers … really, people in every walk of life who are achieving anything worth doing.  

The need for a level of self-sacrifice accompanies everything worthwhile … and, as Jesus makes very clear to his disciples in the Gospel today, it applies to the Christian way of life too:

“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me.  For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”

When we were baptised, the first that happened was that the priest made the sign of the cross on our forehead – and then our parents and godparents did the same.  That sign teaches us a lesson.  Living the Christian life with commitment and passion isn’t going to be a bed of roses.  It’s going to cost us … and the financial cost is likely to be the least significant thing.  The Christian life will cost us peace of mind, time we could be spending in other ways.  Leading us out of comfort zones it will challenge our complacency day after day.

If it’s not doing that, is it really Christ we’re following?

“Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it … but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”

As, slowly but surely, we regroup as a parish, and survey not only the pandemic has cost us as a community but also all the opportunities which now await us to reach out in Christ-like service and witness, there will be no shortage of ways in which we can expend our time and our energies.

We’re going to need discernment – personal and corporate – to see which are the challenges to now embrace, and which are the ones we must pass (at least for the moment).  But if we are to be worthy of Christ, we mustn’t ever think, “I’m past all that – let the ‘keenies’ take that up.”

To be a follower of Christ comes with a cost, a cross to embrace – all for you!  But remember Christ’s promise too: 

“Anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”

It has been truly said, “No crown without a cross.”  So, as the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us:

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has now taken his seat at the right of God’s throne”

A question then to ponder this week: … who do you need to be/what do you need to do as Jesus’ disciple to ensure that, when you approach God’s throne, you hear the words: 

‘Well done, good and faithful servant’?


Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 12th September 2021

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