Jer 20:7-9, Mt 16:21-27
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
One of the most interesting characters in the New Testament is Peter. His discipleship – call it journey of faith – is coloured by ups and downs, faith and doubt, hope and despair, then promises and denials. In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard Jesus praising him for having truly identified him as the Christ, the Son of the living God – the Messiah. And because of his complete and enlightening answer, Jesus appointed him as head of his future Church – the rock upon which he would build his Church. Surprisingly, in today’s gospel – which is a continuation of that of last Sunday – we hear the same Peter being rebuked by Jesus: Get behind me Satan! …because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s. Peter who had just received a new title – the rock – now becomes a stumbling block in his master’s path. Peter, the rock, now becomes a heap of sand. He falls from grace to disgrace.
But, why did Jesus use such a harsh language against Peter? Secondly, why did Jesus go on and give a seemingly scaring condition for anyone who wished to continue as his disciple? – If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark, the Evangelist, makes this condition even more demanding. Unlike Mathew, he talks of taking up the cross, not occasionally, but daily.
In last Sunday’s gospel, when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ – the son of the living God, Jesus presumed that he fully understood the implications of his answer. He presumed that Peter and the other disciples fully knew his destiny – a destiny that would involve suffering, death on a cross and finally resurrection. Today’s gospel, however, seems to suggest that this was not the case. When Jesus told them that he was to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests, be put to death and rise up on the third day – they were totally confused and downcast. His revelation was contrary to their expectations – it did not fit in their idea of the Messiah. The disciples, like all the other Jews during Jesus’ time, hoped for a political Messiah – a messiah that would liberate them from the Roman domination, and make them a sovereign nation once again. However, Jesus was not this kind of messiah. The kingdom which he had come to establish, and which he preached, was not aimed at overthrowing the Roman imperialists, but the oppressive religious institutions of his own people. Of course, Jesus knew the cost of such a mission. He knew that such a mission would lead to his suffering and death on the cross at the hands of the Jewish leaders, but the disciples could not make sense out of this – Why would the Messiah have to suffer? How could the Messiah be rejected and put to death by their leaders? It was on account of this misunderstanding of Jesus’ destiny that Peter, who always acted as the spokesman of the other disciples, voiced their fear and frustration – Lord, this must not happen to you. In reply, Jesus rebuked Peter and made it clear that Satan was using him. He, then, went on to tell the entire group that his fate was the fate of all who would choose to follow him – If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Dear friends, Jesus is putting the same condition before us this Sunday. He is cautioning us that following him is not a matter of walking on a marble path, but it involves carrying a cross. The cross is part and parcel of true discipleship. To be a Christian is to be prepared to carry the cross. However, the cross that Jesus is inviting us to carry is not a piece of wood similar to the one he carried on the way to Calvary, but the various challenges that we encounter daily in following and witnessing to him. Being a Christian in today’s world is not easy at all. It poses a real danger. Who has not heard of Christians that have lost their lives or are being persecuted for the sake of following Christ? In other instances, the cross will take the form of insult or ridicule from non-believers. This is exactly what happened to Prophet Jeremiah as we heard in the first reading – I am a daily laughing-stock, everybody’s butt … The word of the Lord has meant insult, derision for me. Amidst the various crosses that we may have to endure in our discipleship, Jesus assures us of victory. He assures us that there is light at the end of the tunnel: for whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Let us pray for the grace and strength to bear the small crosses that come our way in following and witnessing to Christ.