XXII. O.T. Jer. 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt. 16:21-28
A church wanted to improve attendance at their major worship services, so they hired a powerful advertising agency to come in, study their situation, and make recommendations. The ad agency did their research... and then suggested to the church that they should get rid of all the crosses in the church... because the crosses might send a negative message to prospective young worshippers!
Well, there are several non-Catholic churches that have taken away the crucifixes in their churches. Some prosperity preachers never mention about the Cross. All they say is that God is going to bless you abundantly with riches and wealth; all you need to do for that is just give them donations, and God will return to them manifold.
The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christian discipleship demands three conditions: Deny oneself , “take up your cross”, follow him . So, we cannot get rid of the cross, because it is the powerful reminder of God's sacrificial and redemptive love for us. And the cross is the constant signal to us of how God wants us to live and love today.
Jesus realized that, although he had predicted his suffering and death three times, his disciples were still thinking in terms of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. That is why Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Messiah. Correcting Peter for dissuading him, Jesus calls Peter Satan remembering the temptation he had in the desert where Satan tried to persuade Jesus to an easy, comfortable way of life. Jesus tells: Get behind me Satan. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go." Like Peter, the Church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote "When Christ calls a man to follow him, he calls him to die." In Baptism a Christian dies with Christ.
History is full of noble souls who risked their lives for the sake of others. If certain scientists had not been prepared to take risks, many a medical cure would not exist. If mothers were not prepared to take risks, no child would ever be born.
When a bud goes through the pain of bursting, it is transformed into a beautiful flower. When a pupa struggles out of a cocoon, it is transformed into a charming butterfly. When a chicken breaks the shell and comes out it becomes a lovely bird. When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. So, the nature itself calls us to understand that the way to perfection and greatness is through suffering.
The man who risks everything for Christ finds life. On the other hand, the man who abandons his faith for safety or security may live, but he is actually dying. Think of all the Christians who were martyred or are being martyred because of their faith in Jesus in Syria and Iraq. Did they lose their lives? If we believe Jesus’ words, they are all living compared to those who compromised their faith for safeguarding their physical lives.
When we undergo the suffering and pain of life we get strengthened. St Paul wrote: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).” A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain. Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges. “A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.”
So, how shall we be responding to the invitation of Jesus to take up the cross? Sacrifice a little time and pleasure to do something greater. Give up extravagant comfort of modern appliances which will help us strengthen the spirit of endurance. Ignore the pride of replacing the present decent TV with the latest available one. Accept the pain of donating a little blood to save a life. Like this we can find hundreds of ways to make our life meaningful and worthwhile. Again God does not ordain but allows sufferings in our lives, so that we can glorify him by our becoming more identical with His Son. Let’s pray that the Father may help us to become more like His son Jesus who said: “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” Amen