OT XXII [A] Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
Joseph Ton was pastor of a Baptist church in Rumania while that country was ruled by Communists. The authorities hated him because of his preaching. They arrested him, and threatened to kill him. Ton said to the arresting officer:
"Sir, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Sir, you know my sermons are all over the country on tapes now. If you kill me, you will be sprinkling them with my blood. Whoever listens to them after that will say, 'You'd better listen. This man sealed it with his blood.' They will speak ten times louder than before. So, go on and kill me. Then I will win the supreme victory."
The officer sent him home. Ton then said, "For years I was a Christian who was cautious because I wanted to survive. I had accepted all the restrictions the authorities put on me because I wanted to live. Now I wanted to die, and they wouldn't oblige. Now I could do whatever I wanted in Rumania. For years I wanted to save my life, and I was losing it. Now that I wanted to lose it, I was winning it."
Today Jesus reveals a paradoxical truth. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Last week Our Lord was praising Peter’s faith; this week he is condemning his worldly outlook, scolding him telling get behind me Satan. Jesus announces 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." After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Unless we constantly remind ourselves of the demands of this difficult vocation from God, we will fail to be the kind of disciples that Christ expects us to be.
Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. He also encourages us to practice self-detachment and to remember that everything we have comes from God. The world tries to turn our minds away from the Cross, but the cross is the true path to life and fulfillment. When we accept and shoulder the crosses in our life, it renews our attitude toward the fleeting things of this world and what is truly important. No matter how often we try to accumulate things and ensure comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing.
Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, but not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world. The only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: Jesus’ cause.
Remove the cross from our faith and it is a house of cards. It will crumble under the slightest weight.
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. 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. When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. 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).” 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.”
Dear brothers and sisters, the Christian life is the sacrificial life. When we practice little acts of kindness we are writing our name in the history of time. We will be remembered by many even after our departure from this world.
A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the Kingdom?"
Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and others. Let us listen to the teaching of Jesus, “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.”