22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

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. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord,’ he said. ‘This must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’

Matthew 16:21-27

Fully aware of his own future death and suffering, Jesus foretells his disciples of the fate that awaits him. Having grown closer in friendship with Jesus, and conscious that he was truly the Messiah, Peter is disturbed and pleads with him that this cannot happen.  He is astonished that the Messiah will undergo suffering and be put to death.

A recurring theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that the events of Jesus’ life were the fulfilment of the Old Testament. The verse ‘all of this happened so that Scripture might be fulfilled‘ occurs no fewer than sixteen times. At the time of this encounter, Peter would have been unaware that these future events of passion, death and resurrection were necessary not just for the fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures, but for the redemption of mankind.

Unwittingly, Peter sides with the devil in attempting to deter Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Jesus rebukes him saying ‘get behind me, Satan!‘ and goes on to forewarn the disciples of their own imminent suffering. Whilst not speaking specifically of their impending persecution, Jesus refers to the fact that Christian witness will have a price. Even before his own crucifixion, Jesus refers to the Cross as a sign of Christian fellowship and discipleship.

Jesus’ injunction ‘if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me‘ is a message to Christians of every generation. Many in the early Church were martyred on the Cross as a sign of their faithfulness. Today, however, we bear crosses of a different nature as a sign of our Christian witness. Often we experience persecution or marginalisation as a result of our Christian principles or we make sacrifices as an ongoing commitment to, and sign of, the beliefs that we hold to be true. While we may not lose our lives in a physical sense, true Christian living is the giving of oneself to God and others in the spiritual sense. By rejecting a life of individualism and hedonism, and by making the needs of others a priority, we experience life in abundance.

Jesus proclaimed ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full‘ (John 10:10). Paradoxically, this fullness of life comes not from self-seeking, but from self-emptying.    

Anthony Cleary
Director – Mission and Identity