22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
|Jesus Carries His Cross|
Station of the Cross
In today’s first reading we meet a disgruntled, fed-up prophet. Jeremiah has been insulted, beaten, and even put up to public display and ridicule. He feels that he has been duped or fooled by the Lord, and thinks of giving up.
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah decides to go on. The word and love of God is like fire burning in his heart.
In today’s gospel Jesus reveals his goal and mission to his disciples for the first time. We remember that in last Sunday’s gospel he had asked them, “who do you say that I am.” Peter stepped forward and exclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” After Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus reveals the mission of the Christ.
The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests,
and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
This shocking revelation is too much for Peter. It's one of the mysteries of the gospels that every time an Apostle speaks we can almost imagine ourselves speaking. Like Peter wouldn’t we want to take Jesus aside and say, “wait a minute. You’ve been so successful. You’ve just fed the multitude, and you’ve healed people wherever you’ve been. You’re only 33 and crowds are following you. This is just the beginning.”
I think that one of the reasons why the film, "The Passion of the Christ," caused such controversy was not because of the violence depicted but because we do not like the idea that our Lord had to suffer and die. We know that the Apostles didn't like it either.
After all the wonderful things He had done, this was shocking news. Even more shocking was what He said next,
If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
What does it mean to take up our cross and deny ourselves? The persecution of Christians today has become so widespread and vicious that the news is finally breaking into the increasingly secular mainstream media. Events in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt can no longer be ignored in the age of You tube and Twitter. In China and India persecution is either sanctioned by the government, or ignored by government officials when it occurs.
Fortunately, most of us will be spared the call to martyrdom but we still have our own mission in life. For most of us our cross will seem kind of ordinary. But it will involve leaving our own desires behind and taking on a new responsibility. We have all been called to overcome our own selfishness and find our true selves in the service of others.
I think first of fathers and mothers who dedicate themselves to the raising of their children. I think of teachers who dedicate themselves to the education of other people’s children. On Labor Day I think of all those who work to provide for their families.
To save our lives, to find true happiness, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and be willing to give up our lives for the sake of others. As we all know, this is not that easy and we may often regret it.
We live in an age of selfishness. We broadcast all our doings on social media. We take pictures of ourselves, our favorite subject. “Selfie” has even become a legitimate word. For years it has been fashionable for intellectuals to glorify individualism and criticize Christians for sacrificing themselves. It can be hard sometimes to wonder if we could have done something better with our lives if we had just pursued our own self-interest.
St. Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the newly converted Romans. He tells them to “be not conformed to this world.” Rather, he urges us to present our bodies as a sacrifice. Paul understood very well the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
And forfeit his life?
*Image by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image o enlarge.
Reading 1. Jeremiah 20: 7-9
Reading II. Romans 12: 1-2
Gospel. Matthew16: 21-27 (Get behind me, Satan!)