Matthew 16: 21-28 September 3, 2023 Rev. Miguel Baguer
Peter disapproval may sound harmless to us, even caring; but by objecting to the destiny of Jesus, peter is imposing his vision over god’s vision. He is taking the human high road instead of god’s low road.
We too are tempted to put our faith in the world’s methods: our own dogmas, our own fail-proof ways of doing things, psychology of the masses, and supremacy instead of god’s methods: the cross, preaching the cross, taking up our cross and serving the needy in Christ’s name.
He explained that god’s thoughts are not our thoughts, but peter did not understand that the son of God was not on earth to liberate the Jews from the romans. He did not understand that, if and when, we human beings are bearing the unbearable, we need a god who has suffered the depths of pain, despair and loneliness as we ourselves do.
There is no other god that can be trusted: and this is the good news: that God is Jesus Christ. Peter goes from being a rock to becoming a stumbling block; peter would like Jesus to go to Jerusalem and crush those in political or religious power who will dare to arrest him. That, after all, would be “the appropriate thing” to do for god’s son, god’s own anointed. Wouldn’t it?
But as we know, Jesus refuses to play that kind of logic. He doesn’t carry a personal weapon; he doesn’t own a business to support an army and has no place to call home. He relies on a community of giving and sharing; he relies on God and on others, not himself. He is not self-sufficient and whatever he has is available to be given away for the sake of others.
Peter, or us, cannot take suffering, death or resurrection out of the Jesus story. That is why the gospel tells us that’s Jesus doesn’t remove himself from everything that is unbearable in human misery, or that he is taken away from all the causes of pain, anger and rage of human life. Because he did bear the unbearable, and did overcome it. He keeps open conversations with us, about those distressing feelings, about our burdens and this conversation is kept open for life.
Jesus adds that we must follow him and take up the cross, which means that, to him, living a life of selflessness is the way of love.
As a parent, remember how your love multiplied and became an integral part of your being when you had to deprive yourself of sleep, fun or worldly things to care for your children, your husband or wife when they needed it. Remember how eager you were to share with a brother or a sister your care for mom or dad and how that form of sacrificial love became a balm of peace in your soul and enriched your spiritual life.
The nurturing and growth of that spiritual journey takes a lifetime; even as we think we have matured, our full understanding of god’s vision is less than complete. Paul said in a letter to the Corinthians (the one you have listened to so many times at weddings} “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, we will see face to face”.
And in the understanding of that spiritual journey as disciples of Christ we do not have to march in lockstep together. We just have to exercise in our personal ways the unique gifts each of us has been given. Since not everyone has the same gifts, we don’t have to follow Jesus in the same way as the next person does.
“What is mine is yours”, Jesus is frequently pictured as saying. And just in case peter and the other disciples did not get the whole picture, he promised to return at the end of time “to repay everyone for what has been done”. In other words, there will be an accounting and that accounting will not be influenced by terrestrial auditors.
So, what will it be: “will you pick up your cross and follow me”? He says, or does the thought of leading your life your way and gaining the whole world or, at least, a substantial part of it still appeals to you?
Christ is saying that either you are on the bus or you are off the bus, but the bus is leaving the station sooner than you think.