“You are not thinking as God does but as man does.”
The gospel passage this week continues from last’s week’s passage. You may recall Peter’s great confession of faith “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus, amazed at Peter’s response, sees His Father at work and says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” He then gives Peter the “keys” to the Kingdom.
Jesus now gives Peter and the other disciples a critical lesson on His messiahship. Saint Matthew recalls: “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 only hears suffering and pain. He does not recognize the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. He blurts out a rebuke which prompts Jesus’ stern response: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
The change in the interaction between Jesus and Peter from the first episode to the second points to the significance of the passion. The cross is central to Jesus’ mission. Peter, and most likely the other disciples, do not understand this yet. Perhaps, at this point, it is “too far beyond them.”
Suffering and death are difficult realities with which everyone has to wrestle at some point. On a purely human level, Peter’s objection seems normal. Many of us would probably react the same way.
Today we even use language and sayings that suggest a reaction like Peter’s when we encounter suffering, serious illness, or slow decline in physical and mental ability. All we see is pain.
We may even look on life as valuable only if it is useful or productive. If this is the principal by which we give life value, then any diminishment of our abilities is a lessening of our value.
This is certainly contrary to God’s vision of each individual. He thinks we are valuable not because of our ability or utility but by our very being itself. We are precious in His eyes just because we are. We are so valuable that He sends His Son to show us.
Jesus’ suffering and ultimate death has a meaning beyond tribulation, humiliation, and pain. His self-offering is done on behalf of all humanity. He will not be conquered by evil, by fear or by pain. He will love completely. The manifestation of His love is a revelation of the Father’s love. He is present in all human experiences because Christ, His Son, is there. Jesus’ faithfulness to the father will not be lessened but actually intensifies through His passion. He takes on the cross and through it redeems the world. It was not easy for Him to suffer, it was real pain, it was a real death. And it continues to be a real resurrection. So Jesus’ reaction to Peter is sharp and direct. Peter is not thinking as God does but as man does.
Jesus then speaks to all his disciples, and to us. “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.”
He invites us to not only think as God thinks; but to live as God intends, to live according to the Kingdom. He invites us to love as He loves, to forgive as he forgives.
The ways in which we “take up the cross” varies from person to person and from situation to situation. “Taking up the cross” involves a self-emptying love. Loving another person or persons by putting their needs before our own is one of the most basic ways we walk in Jesus’ way. Parents do this all the time for their children. It can be in the most simple of ways.
For example, a couple has been invited to dinner with friends. The evening will afford them some time with friends at a nice restaurant. The parents have been looking forward to this for weeks. Then one of their children gets sick. The child is young. The parents forego the dinner to stay with the child.
Situations like this happen all the time. When we “take up the cross” in these situations, it helps prepare us for dealing with the larger crosses in life. “Taking up the cross” is a way of life, the way of love.
The same is true for mercy. Mercy is also a hallmark of Jesus’ passion. He takes up the cross so we can be forgiven.
When we forgive someone, we are likewise, “taking up the cross.” Living in an imperfect world, there are plenty of opportunities for mercy, both simple and great.
Jesus invites us to go deeper into the mystery of His life and mission. He teaches us the centrality of the cross. He asks us not to think as man does but as God does and to take up our cross and follow Him – from death to life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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