IF ANY MAN WOULD COME AFTER ME, ……
(A biblical reflection on the 22nd ORDINARY SUNDAY, 30 August 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:21-27
First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalms: Psalm 63:32-6,8-9; Second Reading: Romans 12:1-2
The Scripture Text
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay every man for what he has done. (Matthew 16:21-27 RSV)
Immediately after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the promised Messiah (see last Sunday’s Gospel – Matthew 16:16), our Lord tells His disciples that even though He is the Messiah – in fact because He is the Messiah, He has to undergo humiliation, suffering and violent death at the hands of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. But He will be raised from the dead on the third day and the victory of the Jewish authorities will be short-lived.
Peter, again spokesman for all the disciples, could not imagine his Master, who had such divine power, suffering anything much less death, at the hands of His enemies. The disciples still looked on Christ as a man with divine power, but sent to set up a new earthly kingdom of David – a kingdom which would overcome all enemies, whether pagan Romans or obstinate Jewish leaders. They had not yet grasped the spiritual nature of the kingdom He was establishing. Little wonder then that Peter argued with Jesus (Matthew 16:22); it must have seemed to him that Jesus was joking – how could one who raised the dead to life be Himself put to death?
In response to Peter’s remarks, Jesus did rebuke him, by calling him Satan. The word Satan in Aramaic, the language used by Jesus, means an obstacle, an impediment, not the demonic connotation it now has. Jesus tells Peter he is trying to impede God’s plan, because God’s plan was that Jesus Christ should suffer and die in order to earn victory and eternal life for all the people.
Although Jesus rebuked Peter for trying to prevent His journey to the cross, He did not penalize him. He did not revoke the keys to the kingdom or stop calling Him the “Rock of the Church” (Matthew 16:18-19). Instead, He stuck with Peter and continued to teach him how to think with God.
The same goes for us. No doubt all of us can recall times when we have misunderstood or rejected what the Lord was trying to say to us. At times our personal agendas or ambitions get in the way of our ability to hear God’s voice. But we can be confident that Jesus will stay with us, encourage us, and teach us, even when we are not as fully cooperative with Him as we can be. Jesus knows where we are at. And while He is always urging us to follow Him more closely, He is also pouring out loads of encouragement, consolation, and love on us. His goal, after all, is not to correct us constantly but to teach us how to be so intimate with Him that we know what is on His heart.
Now, about the second part of today’s Gospel reading, i.e. about taking our cross to follow Him. How would we define the message of this second part, in just one sentence? How about this one: “Through His cross and resurrection, Jesus Christ offers each person a new life in Him.” But this is not enough. Maybe a second sentence would be needed, coming directly from the Gospel reading itself: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words, the Gospel is about both what Jesus has done for us and what we must do in our turn if we want to receive all that He offers. And it is this question of what we must do that is answered in Jesus’ command that we take up our cross and follow Him.
When we hear the word CROSS, we tend to think of difficulty, hardship, or pain. Certainly, this can be the case at times. After all, living in this world is not always easy, and there are times when Jesus will show us areas of our lives that need to be changed, or “crucified”. Yet, despite its pain, the cross is always the path to a deeper experience of the life that Jesus won for us. In today’s second reading, Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
God wants us to hear the word CROSS and think GOOD NEWS! He wants us to see it as the means to get rid of the junk in our lives – selfishness, prejudice, or pride – and to experience the intimacy with God that Jesus came to give us. So let us embrace the cross so that God can fill us with a new way of thinking, acting, and living. Let us be confident, knowing that the cross will lead us to eternal life in God’s presence, free from all sorrow and death.
Prayer: Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ, for pouring out loads of encouragement, consolation, and love on me. You keep teaching me how to be so intimate with You that I can come to know what is on Your heart. I thank You also for putting my old life to death through Your cross and giving me a whole new life. Help me to take up my cross and follow you today. Amen.
Jakarta, 29 August 2020 [MEMORIA OF THE BEHEADING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST]
A Christian Pilgrim