Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 30, 2020
Matthew 16: 21-27
By Rev. John Tran
Let’s face it: the passion of Jesus is a scandal! The Greek word for scandal means stumbling block, and what a stumbling block this was. Can we blame Peter for his reaction to hearing what Jesus plan really was? This is not what happens to the Son of God; this is not what the type of messiah that Peter and the others had in mind. What? Suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, be killed? Surely not. It is interesting that neither Peter nor the others pick up on Jesus last phrase, “and on the third day be raised up.” I suspect that they did not have any idea what this could mean and so it passed right over their heads. Just a moment ago, as we heard last Sunday, Peter had been congratulated for naming Jesus the messiah and Son of God; he had been named by Jesus as the “Rock” upon which Jesus would build his church. Can we blame Peter for not understanding the Passion? Perhaps not; that understanding would come only after the Passion, and more importantly, the Resurrection. But then after rebuking Peter, Jesus takes pity on him and the others and explains to them what the cost of discipleship is and what it must call forth from each of them. But this is not just for them. Even thought we know what the passion and resurrection mean. and what they did accomplish, we do not always remember what being a disciple calls each of us to be. Remember Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What does Jesus mean by this statement. It must have seemed to Peter and the disciples to be crazy. All this work of following him, depriving themselves of good jobs, homes and families, and now the only reward is to be subjected to more suffering and ridicule. How much they would have to stretch to accept what Jesus said. And what about us? How much do we have to stretch? How hard it is to leave our comfortable lives and be put out of our way by the gospel? There is an ancient legend about Peter, which became the basis for a famous novel and motion picture. At the time of the great persecution under Nero, the Christians of Rome told Peter to leave. “You’re too valuable,” they said. “Get out of town! Find your safety! Go to another place and preach the Gospel.” Peter hastily hurried out of town as fast as he could. But as he hurried along the Appian Way, away from the Eternal City, he was met by Christ, going toward the city. Peter said to him in Latin, “Quo vadis, Domine?” “Where are you going, Lord?” To which Jesus replied, “Back to Rome, to be crucified with my people. Where are you going, Peter?” Peter’s eyes filled with tears of remorse, as he turned and walked back to Rome, where, according to tradition, he was crucified head downward, feeling that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as had his Lord. Jesus’ question to Peter comes to us also. “Where are you going?” Are we going with Christ, or away from him and from his cross? That’s the really important question. It doesn’t matter how far we have traveled. What does matter is the direction in which we are going. So, what are we called to do? First, we are called to deny ourselves. Jesus does not mean that we are simple to give something up for a few weeks so that we can help a worthy cause, like the local soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity. We certainly are called to do things like this, but they are only a small part of what is needed. To deny oneself is more radical. It means that from the moment we become disciples, we are to say no to self, to our own good, and say yes to God. This is easy to say, but it is quite something else to really live in the particular everyday life. Next, we are to take up the cross of Jesus. To embrace Christian life is to take on a life of service where our own ambition or well-being is not the main undertaking or concern of life. It may mean that what is most needed from us by our Lord is not convenient, and does not fit into our game plan or our budget. Perhaps we will have to give up our bowling night, or watching our favorite mini-series, or a night in a comfortable chair with a good book. It can even mean far more radical things that than, like becoming involved in teaching CCD, running a parish program, becoming a priest or religious, or giving extra attention and financial support to a son or daughter with special needs. And finally, we must follow Jesus. This sums up the previous two points and is perhaps the most difficult thing. It means that we are never really in the driver’s seat. We are never really in control or following the path that I myself choose to walk. But this does mean something extraordinary for each of us. It means to live life rather that simply to exist. It is funny isn’t it? We stop simple existing and begin living only when we are involved with something or someone larger than ourselves. Archbishop Anthony Bloom relates a story from the days of the Russian Revolution. A young woman with two small children was hiding in an abandoned house from the red Army. Her husband was fighting for the opposing side, the Imperial troops. She was in danger of death if she were found. One night a neighbor named Natalie, a young woman her own age, knocked on the door. She ask the woman if she were so-and-so, and she replied that she was. Natalie told her that the Red Army was very close. She had been discovered, and the were coming soon to to shot her; she must flee at once. She told Natalie that she could not because of her small children; they could not move fast enough. Then Natalie said, "yes you can escape because I will stay here and say that I am you". The woman said, "but you will be shot!" Natalie told her, "yes, but I have no children." There is no reason for what Natalie did, but the words of Christ: “No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend.” Natalie could have left that house after the woman left, and once in the street she would have been herself again. Instead, she died, shot. Perhaps this is the scandal of the cross each of us must live out daily. To live for others rather than ourselves, and to really live in Jesus not just exist. That is the radical call of discipleship: to be Christ and help him to make God’s Kingdom come, as we daily pray in the Our Father. Now we can pray it and mean it.