A Difficult Truth
September 12, 2021 (readings)
- Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Cathy Stamper
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”
Opening Prayer: Jesus, I give you thanks for your words and your example. Help me to be aware of the lure of focusing on merely human things. Help me, in my weakness, to keep my eyes on you and embrace my cross.
Peter’s Declaration: Our first pope was not perfect, but his love for Christ and his faith was strong. He was divinely inspired with the knowledge that his teacher was not just a great rabbi or an ancient prophet returning to Israel, but was in fact the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus asked the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17). We can only imagine the thrill all of the apostles must have felt when they heard this truth confirmed: They were companions and followers of the long-awaited Messiah himself!
Good News/Bad News: Immediately after the stunning confirmation that the Messiah was indeed present among them, Jesus spoke plainly about the pain and difficulty that awaited him and his followers. In the many long years, through the many generations who lived before the birth of Christ, the Jews waited and prayed for the Messiah. They sought a restoration of the earthly golden years of Israel, beginning with King David and ending with division after the reign of Solomon. Certainly, the Jews of Jesus’s day, suffering under Roman rule, held out hope that the Messiah would deliver them from their oppressors and restore Israel to its former glory. Instead, Jesus somberly revealed that he would not be overthrowing the Romans or restoring Israel to its glory days. Rather, he would be rejected, persecuted, condemned, and killed, and after three days would then rise from the dead. Peter was distraught at this news and reacted, as many of us would, by arguing with Jesus. When we experience a looming cross, we do well to listen to the advice Jesus gave Peter: We are to set our minds on divine things.
Take Up Your Cross: The apostles must have felt, at this moment, exactly the way St. Teresa of Avila did when she famously said, “If this is how God treats his friends, it is no wonder he has so few of them!” Jesus’s words confused the disciples. Their Messiah and Redeemer to be put to death like a common criminal? To rise from the dead after three days in the tomb? And if they wanted to be his followers, they, too, would be expected to carry a cross, an instrument of torture, and to be willing to be put to death for believing in him? This was not what they wanted to hear. Frankly, it is not what we want to hear. How often do we pray, “Lord, I have followed you and tried to be a good disciple, so why do pain and suffering still come my way?” It is Satan who whispers to us, “You don’t deserve this trial. If God really loved you, he would not permit you to suffer.” It is often through pain and suffering that we truly learn to rely on Christ. If we don’t “take up our cross,” our crosses don’t disappear. No one can avoid the cross. We must choose to embrace our cross and allow God to work in our lives, or try to ignore it and fruitlessly protest what we see as an injustice.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, how I would love to enjoy the wonders of your love and avoid the pain of your cross! Like Peter, I prefer to follow my own plans and don’t want to hear difficult truths. Satan can easily insinuate himself into my thoughts and weaken my focus. Strengthen me and give me the courage and faith to take up my cross and follow you. Help me to remember that without the sadness of Good Friday there is no joyous Easter. May I offer up any suffering, large or small, for the salvation of my loved ones. May my suffering be a means to draw me closer to you.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will meditate on Mark 8:34-35 from today’s Gospel reading, asking for your help to embrace my cross: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.’”
For Further Reflection: The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.
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