22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
None of us likes to be rebuffed by another. If a child is trying to help a parent and the parent pushes the little one aside because he or she is getting in the way of doing the task quickly, the child is hurt. Child psychology tells us that constant rebuffing can greatly damage the child’s self-esteem. If a boss rebuffs a worker, the worker might develop resentment and might not care about doing his or her best. If a friend rebuffs a friend to pursue some selfish interest, the friend is rightfully hurt.
In today’s gospel passage Jesus harshly rebuffs Peter. The gospel does not record Peter’s feelings or response, but he must have been hurt. Jesus, however, did not rebuff Peter because Jesus wanted to pursue some selfish interest. Jesus is single-minded about the purpose for which he came – to be faithful to doing the Father’s will in bringing us salvation. And Peter’s rebuke is counter to Jesus’ integrity.
Today’s gospel begins with a clear statement of what we call “the Paschal Mystery” of Christ. It says, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he 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.” Peter recoils at this statement of Jesus’ fate. And so do we! Suffering and death is hardly an attraction that we would seek and make central in our life. Yet it must be, for Jesus attests that the only way to find our life is to lose it.
Why would we want to make losing our life – suffering and death – something central to our daily living? Like Peter, we tend to limit our vision by focusing only on the suffering and death. We are constantly tempted to fix our eyes on our pains and sufferings, troubles and afflictions, hardships and difficulties, deprivations and losses. We have not grasped and accepted the truth about the cost of following Jesus, about sharing in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The fullness of the Paschal Mystery always leads through suffering and death to new life. In God’s saving plan, life comes through death.
Jesus’ curt command to Peter – “Get behind me, Satan!” – points to the crux of the challenge: We are to think like God, not like humans. Again, in God’s saving plan, life comes through death. No human instinctively understands or embraces this. God’s love alone reveals this mystery, makes it happen, and embraces us as we surrender ourselves to this truth.
The cost of discipleship is, indeed, great. It entails dying to self, losing one’s life for the sake of another. It implies daring to be a counter-cultural sign in a culture that is becoming more and more antagonistic to anything Christian. Why? Because it is overtaken by materialism and consumerism, obsessed with more and better possessions, preoccupied with self-indulgence and sensual pleasures, enslaved by the “fear of missing out” or FOMO, and distracted by constant entertainment. Well, if we focus only on the cost of discipleship, we will become as disillusioned and discouraged as Prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading.
We always need to hear Jesus’ whole message about the Paschal Mystery: we must lose our life in order to find it. The suffering and death always lead to new life. We know this because Jesus has already shown us the way. His prophecy about his passion and death includes his announcement of being raised to new life. This is what is central to who we are as Christians. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to make this to be all-absorbing in your life?
Following Jesus does not require us to hunt for pain and suffering. Being faithful to Jesus will bring enough of it as it is. And this is so because living and witnessing to gospel values confronts and challenges so many distorted values that our society touts as ones that will bring us happiness. Ultimately, though, we find that only living gospel values brings us lasting happiness, true joy, even though we must die to self in the process. All who wish to be faithful to Jesus’ call to discipleship and gospel living must be prepared to suffer – and also be prepared to receive new life. The life Jesus offers is worth any price!
“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.”