9-3-2017 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sep 5, 2017
22nd Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The Gospel today is a continuation of last week’s Gospel, the scene in which Peter calls Jesus "the Christ, the Son of the living God." In turn, Jesus calls Peter "the Rock," and on that rock, that solid foundation, Jesus would build his new community, the Church. This Church— the ecclesia, the community "called out" of the world—would be a militant Church. The "gates of hell" are not strong enough to hold back this Church. This Church breaks through the gates and destroys evil through the power of love.
Today’s Gospel immediately follows the passage from last week—but it is a little more sobering. Whereas last week we were roused into battle—this week we learn the cost.
To accomplish his mission, Jesus must go to Jerusalem, where "he will suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." The message that Jesus will preach—divine love, self-giving love, suffering love for others—will not be welcome. In a world gone wrong, Jesus says, this message will always meet resistance. (Like Jeremiah many centuries before—jeremiad.)
What is interesting about our story today is that the first to resist is Peter! "Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall every happen to you." (Or to me.) Telling Jesus what to do . . . never a good idea.
But Peter is just like you and me. We love the Jesus of our imagination—Jesus without a hard edge, Jesus without the cross, Jesus who helps us get rich and makes us feel good. But when we meet the real Jesus of the Gospel, we are a little uncomfortable—the Jesus who is heading to Jerusalem, the Jesus who lays down his life. The Jesus who will always meet resistance.
Even from Peter. Instead of being a "rock foundation," Peter has now become a "stumbling rock." "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus says, "You are an obstacle to me."
The language is very strong—why does Jesus use such strong language, like calling Peter Satan? Because Satan is "the father of lies," and Peter has spoken the great lie: that the Christian life can be lived without the cross. Without suffering love. Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the cross—which is precisely what Satan tries to do, hoping Jesus will not accomplish his mission of salvation.
So Jesus tells Peter to "get behind" him. To follow him. This is the place of the disciple, to follow the Lord, not to mislead him or to cause him to stumble. To think as God thinks, not as humans do. Our instinct is to protect ourselves from harm, to be safe, to avoid trouble. But to think as God thinks means to follow the path of self-giving love—a path that leads to Jerusalem and ultimately the cross.
To make his point crystal clear, Jesus turns to all the disciples (and to us) and says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
Notice the action words that Jesus uses here. Discipleship is intentional. It is freely chosen. 1) To deny oneself—to put the needs of others before our own needs. 2) To take up the cross—not simply "to accept" the cross, but to actively take it up, consciously, intentionally. And 3) To follow—in the footsteps of the Master, wherever he goes.
Not a popular thing today, and not a popular thing two thousand years ago. But that’s the Gospel. Always fresh. Always new. And always challenging.