Lose life in order to win it in Christ
Readings: Jer 20,7-9; Ps 63,2.3-18.104.22.168-9; Rom 12,1-2; Mt 16, 21-27
The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A invites us to reflect about discipleship as a journey that entails self-denial and carrying of one’s own cross in order to follow Jesus. On this journey the disciple acquires a new mentality which is able to see losses as gains. Let us allow ourselves be attracted to Jesus and to His way!
Seduced by God to real life
God’s seduction intends to restore life. The prophet Hosea writes: “Therefore, I will seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” (Hos 2, 16). This seduction is not for any selfish reason as many humans would do. God desires to restore His covenant with His people. God, being pure goodness and beauty, cannot but attract. The desire of God to bring salvation to humanity moves Him to engage human beings whom He empowers to speak on His behalf. These are the prophets in whose hearts God first plants an insatiable desire to do His will. Being a prophet is not easy. In the first reading, Jeremiah expresses his complaint that God seduced him. At the beginning of his vocation, he was convinced that accepting to follow God was going to lead him to an easy life. Instead, his mission made him an outcast among his people. This was because he warned them about the inescapable punishment due to their faithlessness to the covenant with God. Rejection and suffering are the measure for true prophecy. False prophets are always spoken well of and praised (se Lk 6, 26) because they speak what people (especially those in power) wish to hear. If Jeremiah tried to avoid the prophet’s suffering, he would make his suffering more severe due to the burning desire to fulfill God’s will. None of the prophets of the first covenant best suits Jesus when it came to the suffering caused by the endurance to do God’s will. No obstacle could ever divert him from accomplishing His mission. Peter had to learn this.
When the rock becomes an obstacle
Last Sunday we saw Peter being appointed the rock on which Jesus was to build His Church. This was because of what God the Father revealed to him to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God. But in today’s Gospel Peter turns out to be Satan. On His journey towards the accomplishment of the mission entrusted to Him, Jesus encountered many temptations. At the beginning of the synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark, and Luke), we see how Jesus confronts the tempter (Satan): “Get away from me, Satan!” (Mt 4, 10) There is a difference between this command and the command in today’s gospel reading: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus refers to Peter as Satan in a symbolic way, as an adversary (this is the literal meaning of Satan) because he was thinking as a man does (inability to believe that suffering can be God’s plan). Peter becomes an obstacle in Jesus’ way. The command to “get behind me” suggests that Peter’s problem was that he wanted to get ahead of Jesus. Perhaps he thought that his appointment as head of the Church meant he could lead even Jesus! The difference is in getting behind Jesus. Peter has a chance of being a follower of Jesus. On this journey he will learn to think the way God thinks.
Win life by losing it
There is a real paradox here which can only be understood if one learns God’s ways. The journey of discipleship requires one to die to what one has held dear in life in order to make space for the newness that Jesus offers. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will save it.” This is the lesson the apostles and all followers of Jesus would have to learn. When we cling tightly to life and comfort in this world, we risk losing out on the real life God desires to give us. The world will always suggest easy and comfortable ways but the true values of life are acquired by following Jesus who way leads through the cross to the glory of the resurrection. It is not surprising that the world has its own prophets who proclaim a gospel of prosperity and end up leading very many into illusions. Those are the prophets that people love to listen to with all their cheap values. The values we get from the Gospel will always be counter-culture. Whoever wishes to follow Jesus must take up one’s cross. The cross crosses out our illusions. This helps us all to avoid being seduced with flattery or false promises.
In the world but not of the world
Whereas Christians should appreciate the God-given goodness in the world, they should remember that they are not of the world. Refusing to follow the logic of the world and conforming themselves to man’s way of thinking, the world will hate them. But this is in fact what St. Paul urges us to do: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind!” (Second reading). In a world where lies are being propagated, Christians are invited to live the truth; where indifference tends to reign, Christians should live solidarity; where promiscuity is presented as normal, Christians should “present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12, 1). In order to be able present a transformative alternative life style, Christians are in need of a continuous renewal of mentality which will make them able to discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. This can’t happen without the readiness for sacrifice. Jesus gave us the example we are to follow. It is the loss of self that leads to true life. Let us then offer ourselves in service! This is the way of God that Jesus showed us. We all ought to learn it by un-learning the worldly ways we tend to cling to!