Sunday, August 31, 2014
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16:21-27 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.26What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
“Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.” Thus ended last Sunday’s fragment from Saint Matthew. Today’s passage begins with Jesus showing the disciples the events that were to happen in Jerusalem, the summit of his “career” as the Messiah solemnly proclaimed by Peter. The entire section (Matthew 16:21-28) is a series of statements which clash with any reasonable expectation the disciples might have had concerning the condition of the Christ they were following. After Peter’s confession, their vision of their future with Jesus must have been that of becoming members of a new ruling élite: remember the mother of the sons of Zebedee requesting for them a “seat” in Jesus’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). Peter, once again, is the spokesman for the Twelve and reveals the profound contradiction between their idea of the kingdom and the plans Jesus (in fact, the Father) has as the Messiah of Israel. They cannot understand that Jesus’ obedience to that design implies accepting a different style of his messianic role: no worldly power, no riches, no prestige, but the treasure of sharing the fate of the poor, the abandoned, “the persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” all those mentioned in the Beatitudes, his opening discourse (Matthew 5:3-12). They cannot grasp that Jesus’ suffering, self-denial and failure may be the way to realize his mission. Those facts do not match the traditional role of the heir to the throne of David. Hence, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus and praying that those things should never happen to him. At this point he is not speaking the words that only the Father could inspire in him, but is thinking as a typical human being. And thus, all of a sudden, Peter, “the Rock,” becomes a simple stone in Jesus’ way, an obstacle in his path. Just as he had told Satan in the desert, now Jesus tells Peter to “get behind him,” so as not to hinder him from fulfilling the Father’s plans, and to become instead a “follower.” One cannot help but pity the poor apostle, for what can a rock do but sink into the water? One cannot help but pity this humble man who was willing to lay down his life for his master, but who, in his weakness, denied and abandoned him … yet even in this Peter became the best symbol of the reality of the Church, a community of sinners striving to be faithful believers. Our passage, however, does not stop there. Jesus’ plans do not concern him alone, but are the model to be emulated by those who believe in him and want to follow him. All the words pronounced by Jesus in this second section are guidelines for those who, not only then, but for the centuries to come, would accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord, the final manifestation of God in the very center of history. His approach shatters all our human schemes and conceptions concerning reality, especially our own essence. Now we must approach and understand things from Jesus’ perspective. As opposed to our human desires for power, riches and success, Jesus’ way is a real alternative. His way is that of self-denial, accepting the cross (remember, an instrument of execution), knowing that the meaning of life is more important than conquering the world. In the end, Jesus’s demands are as radical as those he has accepted in his following of the Father’s design. Curiously, both the disciples and we ourselves seem to skip, overlook or forget Jesus’ words about resurrection and reward (16:21).
Jeremiah speaks about being “duped” by God, and Paul underlines the need to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” In each case, the text reflects the need to renounce our own desires or plans, to understand that following God’s designs means entering through a “narrow” gate and walking along a “constricted” road (Matthew 7:13-14), accepting that God’s “thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways” (Isaiah 55:8). In fact, we have to face a process of transformation, of conversion. Let us remember that Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was a call to “convert,” and the Greek word used in the Gospel was metanoeîn, to change one’s mind from human concepts to God’s perspective, God’s way of thinking. A very simple but thorny question for our Meditatio today: to what extent do our plans, our purpose and scope in life (in our profession, family life, politics, etc.) agree with the approach Jesus had for his own life and that he proposed for those who want to follow him? Do not lose heart at your contradictions. Remember that following Jesus is a long process, a daily undertaking.
Let us pray for ourselves: that we may get rid of our purely human mentality and accept Jesus’ approach to a life of self-denial and obedience to his words. Pray for those who cannot understand suffering and renouncement in their following of Jesus: that they may accept his invitation to follow him and discover that his yoke and his burden are easy and light.
Peter’s attitude was an obstacle, a stumbling block for Jesus, for in his purely human mentality, he tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the Father’s design. For us, on the contrary, Jesus’ cross continues to provoke scandal, as it is a sign of contradiction of our human rationality. Read again 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and compare your mentality, oriented towards success, with Jesus’ spirit of obedience to the Father.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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