Twenty Second Sunday of the Year August 31, 2008

Jeremiah 20:7-9   Romans 12:1-2   Matthew 16:21-27

Since the dawn of time people have given meaning to their lives through symbols and other forms of artistic expressions.  In fact every one of our communication is filled with symbols, such as a flower, colour, flag, and so on. The cross of Jesus is an important symbol of meaning in our religious tradition. In today-s Gospel, Jesus is clear about the meaning of the cross. The cross is a symbol of dying to all selfishness. We begin and all activities with the sign of the cross.  Eucharist is for us the sign of the real presence of Jesus.  The cross in our life is also a reminder to us that we must adjust our attitudes and priorities in our relationship with God and one another. If any one chooses to follow Jesus he has to deny himself and take up the cross and follow Jesus closely.  Hence the life with Jesus is a struggle where one sacrifices his own self and follows Jesus.

In the First Reading Jeremiah seems to regret that he was called by God to be his prophet. He is facing the similar struggle in accepting the mission. “You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced.” As a consequence he was an object of people’s ridicule. Every time he opened his mouth, he had to tell them openly of violence and disaster coming on God’s people. In return he got nothing but insults and derision. He decided he would not speak about God.  But that did not work. “There seemed to be a fire burning in my heart… The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not stand it.” He just had to go on speaking God’s message. His very call is a sign of God-s presence and he cannot refuse him.  Paul, in the Second Reading, also knew all about the similar struggle in the presence of Jesus. He urges his fellow-Christians to offer their “living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God” and not to “model on the behaviour of the world around them”. They need a “new mind”, the way of thinking which Jesus had and in this way become the sign to the people in the world.  They will be the signs of contradiction.

Reflecting on today’s gospel that follows the confession of Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It must have been a really exciting moment for them to realize their special place as recipients of the mystery of the messiah.  Peter is also been given the commission to take care of the church. Yet their thinking had not fully changed. Their thoughts were much like those of the Jewish community of a glorious and powerful king and he would free them from Rome. Jesus now makes it clear to them of the type of his call as the messiah. “Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.” This, undoubtedly, comes as a terrible shock. They never expected this sort of messiah. Further, it would take place in Jerusalem, the holy city, the site of the Temple where God dwelt among his people.

So, it is not surprising that at this point, Peter, fully aware of his status as the spokesperson, takes Jesus to one side, admonishing him on equal terms. “Heaven preserve you, Lord! This must not happen to you.” In other words he says they are in need of a glorious messiah. For the first time we confront an angry Jesus.  Turning to face Peter, Jesus says: “Get behind me, Satan!” These are strong words for someone who just now was being given leadership of the community.  It is not that Jesus called Peter a Satan.  Rather through his intervention Peter continues the Satan’s intervention, to find a short cut to the mission of Jesus, namely to be unfaithful to the call of the Father that he should save the world through his suffering and death. Peter is only a stumbling block. So Jesus says: “You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but that of a human being.”

Jesus even though is satisfied that his disciples have understood that he is the Messiah, yet they clear idea what kind of Messiah-King Jesus is going to be. They are thinking in purely human terms and have to think in the divine way as St Paul says, by putting on the mind of Christ. They shall have to change completely their ideas about what the Messiah is going to be like. He will not be a great political and military leader who will sweep away all of Israel’s enemies. He will be a king who swerves, who washes their feet, who will wipe out their tears, who will console them all. He is a king who is prepared to die for them.  Ultimately, the disciples will see that the death of Jesus was the source of his greatest glory and power.

Today’s Gospel goes further than just asking us to understand why the glory of Jesus our King and Lord was to be found in the way through suffering and death on the Cross. There is a further call for us to walk the same road with Jesus. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus is asking each one of us to dedicate our lives in totally loving and serving others even if, at times, this involves misunderstanding, ridicule, pain and even death itself, as Jeremiah did in his prophetic mission. “Renouncing oneself” is not a suppression of one’s personality. It is rather to let go of oneself so that one can really find oneself. Jesus further says:, “Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”This is what today’s readings are saying, namely, that Jesus is calling us to where true success and happiness are. Ultimately it is not worth gaining the whole world and forfeiting ones life. Only thing of value is to choose Christ and be with him in his mission and the spread of his kingdom.

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