Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
As Paul Harvey might have said, “and now for the rest of the story.” Our gospel passage from Matthew today continues last Sunday’s story of Peter’s profession of faith at Caeserea Philippi, and it speaks to us of what those who hold the “keys” can expect if they decide to follow Jesus. Satisfied with his inquiry of the apostles regarding who the people said that he was, Jesus now reveals to the disciples that He must “suffer and die, and on the third day be raised.” Peter cannot envision, even with his strong faith, a messiah who suffers or dies [he appears to have missed the “be raised” part], and so he boldly tells Jesus that isn’t going to happen if he has anything to say about it! Jesus then “rebukes” Peter, even calls him “Satan,” and Jesus informs Peter that he is “thinking as man thinks, not as God thinks.”
In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus could only have been pleased with Peter’s response, and Jesus’ sharing the “keys” with him manifests the Lord’s pleasure and confidence in Peter. But we can be certain that Jesus also knew who Peter and his friends were, and he knew they would never be able to continue the work he was entrusting to them unless they developed a deeper understanding of what it meant to be “Messiah,” a deeper understanding of the paradox about their trip to Jerusalem. It was time for Jesus to tell the apostles what he really came into this world for. If the apostles were harboring hope that when Jesus got to Jerusalem he would finally establish that kingdom every Jew wanted, a kingdom where the prominence the Jewish people deserved by nature of their “chosen” state would be procured, then they would most surely be disappointed. The words “be killed” grated on Peter’s conscience, and his outburst of friendly protection turned his just glorious moment into a moment of shame. The word “Satan” must have stung, but the ultimate insult for Peter was being referred to as an “obstacle,” especially since he was trying to be so helpful.
All of this provided the quintessential teachable moment, and so Jesus began to teach them what He knew He would have to teach them from the start: if you want to become one of my followers, “you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” It was seriously paradoxical, for “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s no wonder the apostles needed more time, and Jesus would use every opportunity he had to prepare them for Calvary, but it wouldn’t be enough. There would be denials and cowering in fear, but then the Spirit would bring light to all the darkness and empower the apostles to ably assume the responsibility given to them by the resurrected Savior.
Our world is filled with people who were enticed by the wisdom of what Jesus taught and attracted by the gentility of his demeanor, and yet they no longer count themselves as Christian. Why did they walk away from the faith? For many it was because the cross entered into their lives, because their lives were filled with trials too difficult to bear, and because they felt a pain too overwhelming to endure. Being a true Christian is difficult because it entails living as a person who thinks of others first, “denying oneself.” Christians are called to embrace with hope the crosses that come their way. There is a cost to discipleship, and if we see that as challenging then we can take comfort in the example of the premiere disciple, Peter, who clearly saw the challenge in what Jesus taught. Peter was an “obstacle” in the way of Jesus’ teaching until he finally came to an understanding of how essential the cross is in achieving salvation. Jesus’ gospel is all about love, mercy, forgiveness, patience, compassion, kindness, and humility. But the “rest of the story” is that the gospel also calls us to embrace the sufferings that come our way, confident that, like the one who suffered, died, and rose, that suffering will lead us to salvation. As Jesus was patient with Peter, may He be patient with us who struggle to embrace the crosses that come our way.