Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
There are four homily notes here. Please scroll down. God bless you!
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“Christian Suffering and Christian Perfection”
Today’s gospel may be seen as a turn of events in the very beautiful rapport that Peter had with Jesus in last Sunday’s celebration. The evangelist tells us that from the time that Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus began to “show” them that the Messiah must suffer many things and be killed and the raised again on the third day. Commentators say Jesus was beginning to direct his teaching more to the disciples than to the crowd as a way helping them understandthe Paschal Event better. As a matter of fact this is the first prediction of his passion. The word “show” means more than teaching., it includes a concerted effort to demonstrate and illustrate so as to aid adequate comprehension.
Then Jesus tells them that he must suffer greatly. In all the synoptic accounts (Mk. 8:31, Lk. 9:21), the use of “must” is present. It is used in the sense of necessity, in the sense of inevitability. In other words, Jesus began to show to the disciples that it is of God’s necessary and perfect plan that the Messiah should suffer so much, and be killed and be raised again. It is providential. Indeed, it is a fulfillment of the prophecies since we read in Isaiahthat the Servant of God must suffer (53:4-6) and be killed. Jesus would not commit suicide, he would be plotted against by the Sanhedrin made of the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. This was the religious supreme court of the Jews. Now why would a Saviour, the one Anointed to save lives, die?
Perhaps, Peter had considered the same question. Perhaps, he was moved by this same confusion and so he had to rebuke Jesus, insisting that such must never happen. As we would often say, “God forbid”. Peter’s action is a reminder of St. Paul’s assertion that the cross is “a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks”(1 Cor. 1:23). Precisely for this reason, Jesus tells him that he is an obstacle who needs to leave the way and refers to him as satan. In fact, Jesus uses the same words that he used for the tempter in Matthew 4:10. Like Satan, Peter was posing himself as a stumbling block to the will of God, he was standing as opposition on the path of God’s plan. At this point, he is no long the Rock of faith. He was also going beyond his status as a disciple, a follower, an imitator because he was supposed to follow the master from behind and not dictate for him. He was also thinking only in worldly, carnal terms, he was in a condition where he was unable to see things from God’s point of view.
Peter thus becomes an example for the other disciples and for all Christians as Jesus would then say, “whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”This may be better buttressed by Jeremiah’s experience in the first reading. Jeremiah’s total surrender to God got to a point where he could be said to be helpless before God, he lost his own selfish considerations before the power of God. HHe surrendered all to God.
Jesus’ invitation is not to be understood in a commercial sense. It is not an economic investment or insurance in view of returns. It is to readily give it all in total surrender without counting the cost or evaluating returns. It is difficult because it leads us to reducing ourselves to objects of mockery,shame and helplessness but it is the way to life. It is the way of true Christian discipleship, following the way of Christ. It is not convenient but it is precisely for this reason that Jesus calls it a Cross. Yet it is a way to finding true meaning in life and finding God in our lives.
It is, also, a way of perfection. In a world where nations are more concerned about protecting their economic intereststhan the protectionof human life,promoting values of equal opportunityfor all, and the protectionof the created universe, the temptation is there for becoming an obstacle to God’s will for all humanity. The tendency is there to push God behind instead of allowing to lead. Here arises the fear for an endangered humanity, the fear of bushing God out of the world that he has created while we go about our human evaluation of conditions.
Our country Nigeria has a history of being a society where individuals at almost every level put personal interests and desires before and above the good of the general society. We are so morally weak that we can hardly take up any task if we do not stand to a chanceof personal. The result is a society innauseating poverty while a few individuals live in outrageous affluence and opulence. It is also society where nothing works because virtually no one is actually working, commitment is scarce.
Here, therefore, is a call to re-examine our tendency to be preoccupied by our needs of self gratification seen in our unwillingness to make sacrifices by giving time to prayer, to moments of reflection, our unwillingness to be committed to our work and our studies, our inability to let go of certain goods for the benefits of others. Such goods may be material goods, they may be a time shared with friends and family, it may be taking a step to build friendship and build reconciliation. It may be the need to put our ego in check by taking a decision to forgive wrongs, to patiently listen to others’ opinions, to let go ofour opinions when it is necessary for the common good.
Jesus, thus, teaches us that Christian perfection lies in avoiding the attitude of Peter in today’s gospel. The attitude that seeks to go before God, to want to act for God or even dictate for God. It is an attitude that repudiates suffering, inconveniences, sacrifices and certain discomforts which are necessary for a greater good. It is basically how christian suffering is understood., that we accept all these sacrifices and discomforts and offer them up to God for his glory and for our salvation. It is call to seek the will of God daily and to courageously act according to it, knowing that his will gives perfect peace and ultimate victory.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
PETER FROM ROCK TO SATAN?
Embracing a Nonconforming but Transforming Faith
Only last Sunday, we read of Christ acknowledging Peter’s privileged reception of a divine revelation regarding who Christ is (his essence and mission), for which Christ proclaimed him to be the rock upon which he will build his Church which even the underworld cannot prevail against (see Matthew 16:13-20).
In the immediately following pericope which is today’s Gospel Reading (Matthew 16:21-27), we see Peter shift from docility to divine revelation which earned him the trust to be the foundation stone and servant leader of the nascent Christian community; he proves to be not yet entirely transformed into the vision of Christ who, though was in the form of God, emptied himself, becoming obedient even to the point of death on the cross, and only after then exalted (see Philippians 2:6-11).
While Peter understood correctly Jesus’ mission as Messiah and his provenience from God (“You are the Christ the Son of the living God”, Mt 16:16), Peter seems not to have accepted the logic of a messiah who has to suffer before being exalted, pretty much like many of us today whose theology (understanding of God) has no place for passion but only pleasure, no room for suffering but only glory and convenience.
As such, when Jesus began to reveal to the disciples the necessity of his going to Jerusalem where he will have to face suffering and opposition from the powerful civil and religious institutions of his time (elders, priests and scribes), be killed and then be glorified in the resurrection after three days (Mt 16:21), Peter opposed Jesus, taking him away and rebuking him and casting out this divinely designed plan of action that Jesus was to follow for the realization of his mission: “The Lord is gracious to you. This will never happen to you”, Peter retorted (Mt 16:22).
This rebuke of Peter towards Jesus is so familiar to us even today: how often do we hear people use similar expressions like “God forbid, suffering is not your portion”, “Nothing bad will happen to you”, etc. And these are said with every good intention, in fact, as expressions of faith and every goodwill such faith can muster.
Peter’s rebuke and opposition to Jesus’ revelation of his impending suffering in Jerusalem earned him the description, “Satan” (Mt 16:23) which is a Hebrew term simply meaning an adversary, someone in opposition, and not some evil creature or devil, as we are wont to imagine.
Jesus considered such opposition by Peter to the revelation of his impending passion, a kind of conformism with worldly thinking: “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mt 16:23). In other words, Peter was not yet transformed into the logic of docility to the plan and logic of divine revelation, that error-free source of knowledge on the basis of which he was proclaimed the rock upon which the Church is to be built.
By his human evaluation, Peter gets in front of Jesus, and since he could not have been leading Jesus, he was basically constituting a stumbling block (Greek, skandalon). Peter seems not to understand that in leading the Christian community (the Church), he must walk behind Jesus following him and not in front of him. Not to walk behind Jesus is to stop being a disciple, a follower. And when a disciple loses his sense of discipleship and his sense of following, he can only constitute a stumbling block.
Peter seems to have been hanging on the dangerous point of hubris that almost transformed his self-understanding from being a disciple (one who follows the teacher) to one who goes in front of the teacher; from one who listens to the teacher and is transformed into the vision and mission of the teacher, to one who seems to want to change or correct the teaching and vision of the teacher to suit him.
Peter needed, therefore, to go back to the drawing board, to go behind and follow Jesus again as it was in the terms of his call (see Mt 4:19: “come, follow me”) and stop constituting himself into opposition or an adversary (in Hebrew, Satan) to Jesus, or even a stumbling block (in Greek, skandalon) instead of being a rock (in Greek, Petra) to the mission and vision of Jesus.
To use the language of the 2nd Reading (Romans 12:1-2), Peter needed to be “transformed” by the renewal of his mind, and not “conform” to the mentality of this world; he needed to “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” in the sight of God, not men.
Jesus takes this opportunity to teach his disciples in clearer and unambiguous terms what discipleship is really about: it is deciding to walk behind Jesus (following him) and not to stand in front of him; it entails denying oneself, not asserting oneself; it is taking up one’s cross and following the footsteps of Jesus (Mt 16:24) who, though was in the form of God, emptied himself, took human nature and suffered death on the cross (see Phil 2:6ff.) as a necessary prelude to his exaltation, not rejecting and abandoning one’s necessary cross. Jesus makes it clear that only by this self-emptying, this losing of oneself, can one truly find life. Thus, Discipleship has costs, not only blessings to count.
Wanting to save oneself is a futile endeavour (Mt 16:25). For in the Christian doctrine of salvation (soteriology), there is nothing like self-salvation. No one can acquire his (eternal) life: one can only acquire the world and in doing this, he runs the risk of forfeiting (eternal) life. What, therefore, is the gain? As Jesus reminds us elsewhere, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
There is therefore only one saviour, Jesus Christ. He alone, the Son of Man,will come with his angels to repay everyone according to his deeds (Mt 16:27). Hence, it is him we must follow in life and in death so that we can be raised to glory with him. For “this saying is trustworthy: if we die with Christ, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
In the 1st Reading (Jeremiah 20:7-9), we hear Jeremiah’s lamentation which again belies any theology defined exclusively by glory and forbids the possibility of suffering and passion. Jeremiah’s call was defined first by a triumphant tone: “See I appoint you this day over nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10). But sooner, Jeremiah would realize that his vocation was to be met also with opposition, derision, mockery, disgrace and contempt, hence, his lament: “You enticed me, O Lord and I was enticed; you overpowered me and you prevailed. I have become a constant laughingstock; everyone jeers at me” (Jer 20:7). Thus, being a prophet, like discipleship, has costs, not only blessings to count.
May we all realize the need to walk behind Jesus, following him wherever he may lead us and not fall to the temptation of choosing and picking only what is convenient for us. For to follow Jesus is to choose the way of transforming conviction over conforming convenience. There is blessedness also in passion.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Conditions for discipleship
In today’s gospel Jesus lays down the conditions for discipleship. He makes these conditions known so that no one can claim like Jeremiah in the first reading that God has seduced him. Jesus is not out to seduce or induce anyone that is why in Luke 9:58 he said to the man who said “I will follow you”, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. In today’s gospel, he says ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”Beloved in Christ, we are free! If we wish to follow Jesus then we must be prepared to do three basic things: We have to deny ourselves; we have to take up our cross and we have to follow him.
The condition that says “We have to deny ourselves” is an invitation to say “No” to our old nature and say “Yes” to God. This simply expressed Peter’s failure. Peter who just confessed Jesus as the Messiah refuses to reject the belief system of the Jews that portrays the Messiah as a king and a warrior who will deliver them from the hands of the Romans. So, Peter refuses to accept that Jesus is the Messiah who will suffer much hardship. This belief system is intrinsic in Peter. Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Beloved, anyone who confesses Jesus as the Messiah must not think as men think otherwise you will miss your way. 2Cor.5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” In the second reading Rom12:2 we are told to adapt ourselves no longer to the patterns of this world. We must learn to resist worldly thoughts to be able to enter into God’s mission and plan. If we continue to judge things from worldly perspective denying ourselves will become more difficult.
Again, the condition that says “We have to deny ourselves” is an invitation to renounce the world. In Luke 5:11 we are told that when the disciples brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Him. In Luke 14:33 Jesus says “whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” To renounce all or to “leave everything” or to “deny ourselves” is an invitation to absolute renunciation. If we want to follow Jesus we must be able to renounce everything and follow him. One way to renounce and everything is to reject satan. Just as we confessed on our baptism “Do you reject satan and all his empty promises? we responded “I do”. This call to reject satan, is very necessary today. For some of us we just need to renounce cultism and our life will be better, for some we need to renounce stealing and our business will grow. For some others it may be renunciation of gossip, pride, malice and envy and we shall be saved.
The second condition is that “we have to take up our cross”. The cross is the best-known symbol of Christianity. The cross is a sign of willful humility and love. The cross has a characteristics of mockery: he was told on the cross “save yourself and save others”. Again, the cross is a great contradiction. It reminds us of death and assures of life, it connotes hatred and teaches us love, it reflects violence yet announces peace, a victim of false accusation but expresses forgiveness, it shows sin and purity, brokenness and wholeness, in the cross all was lost yet everything is gained, destruction and restoration, defeat and victory. Once the cruelest form of execution, yet now a symbol of abundant life. And so, in this life; “No cross, no Crown”.
Jesus says to us today that we must take up our cross. In Luke 14:27 he says “whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciples.” Beloved, discipleship demands the cross. Many people claim discipleship today but don’t want to bear the burden of the cross. For them Christianity has gone beyond the Cross. Jesus left the cross. Listen, discipleship without the cross is a wrong ship. And you cannot be in a wrong ship and arrive at the right destination. Peter was congratulated as the rock; his name was changed, his office was changed, he became comfortable in a theology of grace and glory and wanted to reject the theology of suffering. Jesus rejected him for that; if we too rejects the cross, Christ rejects us too in those very words “Be gone Satan” Beloved in Christ, the cross may be bitter but it makes you better later.
The last condition is the call “to follow him”. Jesus said “follow me”. To follow him means to imitate him. It is a call to discipleship. Who is a disciple? The New Ratio no. 61 says a “disciple is one whom the Lord has called to stay with him, to follow him, and to become a missionary of the Gospel”. As disciples, let us stay with him and follow him and witnessing shall be our life style. If we follow then we shall not wallow; many Christians are wallowing about because they have not decided to follow Jesus; rather they follow pastors. If we follow Jesus we shall get to heaven but when we follow pastors we shall get to their house. IF you follow Jesus you shall be rewarded. God bless you!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
LOVE IMPLIES AND DEMANDS SACRIFICE
Today’s gospel follows on from last Sunday’s. Last week, we witnessed Simon-Peter’s profession of faith, and the establishment of the Apostle as the first stone of the Church that Jesus wants to build. So we are at a turning point in the life of Jesus and in that of the entire world.
Consequently, the gospel we read today sketches out the new guideline followed by the Savior of the world.
Jesus wants to build His Church. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18) Jesus did not tell us to build a Church, which would be our Church. No, Jesus said that He would build HIS Church. How will He do this? He says it quite simply: “Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The building of the Church is realized in the following way: through death and resurrection. First, Jesus says it in words, and then He will provide the example and do it concretely. He will die and rise again. He will be rejected by the high priests and by some of his people. He will become the cornerstone rejected by the builders (cf. 1 Peter 2:7), in order that Simon might become the first stone of this building, which is the entire Body of Christ.
Let us reread what Saint Paul taught: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:5-6)
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”
It is not we who dictate the terms of our discipleship. It is God who dictates the terms whereby we follow Jesus. Jesus does not follow us, we are called to holiness to follow Jesus completely, even if it means the ignominious death of a common criminal at the hands of an unjust judge in the world.
Christ calls each one of us to let go of our own needs and wants in order to bring God’s grace into our lives and the lives of others. This attitude of discipleship compels us to make choices we would rather not make, to embrace values that run counter to the world’s, to take the difficult, painful first step toward reconciliation and peace, to put aside our own sense of victimization in order to seek peace and justice and healing for others. In “denying” ourselves we discover the life and love of God.
Christ urges us in today’s Gospel to let go of those things that overwhelm our life with sadness, despair and hopelessness and embrace instead the Gospel values of justice, reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness. If we are true to Jesus’ call to discipleship, we will center our lives in values that run counter to what society’s honors, such as taking the first lonely and difficult steps toward reconciliation and peace, putting aside our own needs and wants for what is best for family and community. Christ invites us to take up the cross, not out of a sense of self-loathing or pessimism, but in order to transform our lives in joy and hope of the Easter promise.
Even Peter in today’s Gospel was on the wrong track. The good news is that God did not give up on Peter. He chose him as the leader of the Church, the one we came to see as our first Pope. God will not give up on us either.
The cross was essential to the life work of Jesus; therefore, it is essential for our life work as true Christians.
We cannot escape the cross. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily.
We are called to a unique suffering for Christ in each of our lives. It is the Cross which we take up for Jesus. We are never alone for we have Jesus and we have one another.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking of the necessary suffering involved in His own destiny and in the life of anybody who wants to live humanly – that is who accepts to “lose his life” – face the necessary suffering in order to find it, that is to know fulfillment and happiness.
If we do not listen to Jesus and if we refuse to accept the cross, we will still experience suffering, the unnecessary kind, and besides be unhappy. If we listen to Him, we will experience some suffering, the necessary kind, but we will know happiness. Following Jesus makes all the difference in the world.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises that if we pick up our cross and follow in his footsteps, He will lead us to life. And the life Jesus promises is not only life eternal in the next world but also life, right now, in this world. If we pick up the cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our cross can become a blessing and a stepping-stone to greater things. Rather than serve as an agent of death for us, our cross can serve as an agent of life, just as the cross of Jesus served as an agent of life for all the world.
As “Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day” Peter is horrified by what he is now hearing and objects strenuously whereupon Jesus rebukes him sternly with the cutting words, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Thus the Gospel account shows that it was in one, continuous episode that Peter was led to the knowledge that Jesus was both the true Messiah and the Suffering Servant of God foretold in the prophecies. He was commended for the alacrity and the docility with which he accepted the first part of this revelation and severely reprimanded for his slowness in grasping the second part.
Are we not sometimes guilty of the same charge? Do we not often want God to conform to our own expectations? In thinking like this, we reverse the correct order of things. We try to make God in our own image. When we do this, we become liable to the same condemnation that Peter received: “Get behind me, Satan! You are not on the side of God, but of men.” Strong words, but well deserved, because Peter was imitating the sin of Satan, opposing his will to that of his Creator. This is always the great temptation the evil one lays before us, to put our own wills first, our own wishes above all else.
So Jesus had a call and it meant He had to empty Himself and let Himself be tortured and be put to death. So that by His love even those that put Him to death could be transformed. He could show us the way to bring true justice to the nations, to bring true peace, to make a world where the reign of God breaks forth and where all our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same God and live in peace and harmony and love together.
Peter was telling Jesus, “Don’t do it your way. That’s a foolish way.” And Jesus says, “Satan, get out of here.” And then He goes on to tell all of the other disciples and you and me too: If you want to be my disciple, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow me. The only way our world will be transformed and become the reign of God will be by following the way of Jesus.
And that is what St. Paul is getting at in the second lesson, today. It is a very powerful passage if we take the time to reflect upon it. Paul is saying, “Do not be conformed to this age and to the culture and the world around us. But be transformed by the revolution of your mind.” Turn all of our natural impulses upside down and inside out. Where we think we have to use power and violence, use love. You think you have to have wealth in order to be happy. No, blessed are the poor. Turn all of our thinking around. Have your mind be transformed and not conformed to the world around us. Not conformed to the messages around us everyday.
“We adore you O Lord and we praise You: Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”
To free the world, the Lord Jesus gave not only a hand. He gave His whole life and in the most agonizing way – by death on a Cross. “And so, while the Jews demand miracles, and the Greeks look for wisdom, here we are preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they could not get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1: 22- 25)
Let us close with an inspiring testimony to the truth of Jesus’ promise that He will give life to those who pick up their cross and follow him. This prayer, written in the form of a poem, was found in the pocket of a dead soldier:
“I asked for health, that I might do greater things. I was given infirmities that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for; but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.