In the first reading today Jeremiah the prophet tells how his mission has brought him scorn and mockery. In the second reading, Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world around us, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we can discern the will of God and grow to perfection. We do this by responding properly to the trials of life.
Last Sunday we heard of Simon Peter confessing Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. His faith earned him the new name Peter, or Rock. The incident was a high point in the development of the mission of Jesus, and now it leads him to introduce another element into his teaching. He would be a Suffering Messiah. Matthew writes: Jesus 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. Popular Jewish belief at that time expected a conquering Messiah who would bring military success, wealth and prosperity and, above all, political independence to Israel. He would dislodge the conquering Romans. The disciples of Jesus shared this popular belief. So when Peter heard Jesus announce that he must endure the Cross, he figured that Jesus must have made a mistake. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.
Peter was asking Jesus to abandon God’s hard and narrow way of the Messiah – no Cross, no Crown – for the broad and easy way of the world. Although Jesus had recently called him Rock, he now looks Peter in the face and says to him: Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. God’s ways are very different from man’s ways. We must never forget this. Like a coin that has heads and tails, the Gospel has two sides: the Cross and the Crown. If we try to embrace just one side – the glorious side – and reject the suffering side, we falsify the Gospel. The same Jesus who said, Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest, also said, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Let’s face it, we come to Jesus to be freed from meaningless and futile burdens and take on the cross that leads to glory and salvation. Jesus’ words today challenge us to say no to the sugarcoated worldly gospel of instant glory, with its false promises. Did you ever hear a television evangelist say: Only believe and everything will go well for you? You know it can’t be true.
It has been claimed that religion asks too little of people, that it is too ready to offer comfort and to console, but has lost the courage to challenge. Being a disciple of Jesus is a serious business. Our following of Jesus will consist of being faithful in the low-key events and decisions that add up to heroism in ordinary life.
We get opportunities to die to self in little ways every day – to die to our pride, to our selfishness, to our lust for pleasures and power. We have to die so that the real self can be born. Jesus talked about losing life, but he also talked about gaining life. This death to self is, in fact, the entrance to a higher life.