If you want to become a disciple of Jesus, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Matthew 16:24-25
O God, whose Son has shown the way of the cross to be the way of life:
transform and renew our minds that we may not be conformed to this world but may offer ourselves wholly to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
- Exodus 3:1-15
- Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26
- Romans 12:9-21
- Matthew 16:21-28
- Next week:
- Exodus 12:1-14
- Psalm 149
- Romans 13:1-10
- Matthew 18:10-20
A Thought to Ponder
Pentecost 14 – Matthew 16:21-28
“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.”
Peter’s confession of faith (last Sunday’s Gospel) begins a new phase of Matthew’s Gospel. As he makes his way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ teachings will now be addressed primarily to his disciples on the events and work that awaits them in Jerusalem – and beyond.
The hostility between Jesus and the leaders of Judaism is about to reach the crisis stage. In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims unambiguously that his mission as the Messiah includes suffering and death. Perter is sharply rebuked by Jesus for his seemingly innocent remark that Jesus should be spared such a fate, but Jesus sees Peter’s refusal to accept such a possibility as a “satanic” attempt to deflect the Messiah from his mission of redemption. To avoid suffering and hardship in order to opt for the easy and safe course is purely human thinking, an obstacle to experiencing the life of the Spirit. Authentic discipleship involves taking on the cross and “denying oneself” – disowning ourselves as the centre of our existence and realizing that God is the object and purpose of our lives.
Jesus asks his disciples to detach from the ephemeral and shallow in order to attach to the lasting, fulfilling things of God: compassion, reconciliation, justice.
The cross that Jesus asks his followers to take up is not a cross that cedes to crucifixion but a cross that is the means to resurrection. In embracing Jesus’ spirit of humble servanthood and compassion, we take up his cross, not out of a sense of self-loathing or pessimism, but out of a sense of conviction and hope that the demands of the cross will result in the life and love of the Easter promise.
It’s a natural and understandable reaction to avoid whatever is unpleasant, uncomfortable, stressful, hurtful. In today’s Gospel, Peter simply wants to protect Jesus from the suffering that awaits — but Jesus sharply rebukes Peter for trying to diminish or skirt the cross because it is difficult. To take up one’s cross is not a “battle” of good over evil but a means for bringing God’s promise of resurrection into our lives and the loves of those we love.
Christ urges us to “lose” that part of our life that is centred in ephemeral, perishable things so that we may “gain” lives grounded in the love of God: to lose our anger, our disappointment, our need for control in order to find meaning and purpose in doing for others and contributing to the common good. In “dying” to ourselves we become something greater; in letting go of the temporary and the fleeting we become richer; in the suffering we endure we become stronger, in the failures we experience we become wiser.
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