The juxtaposition of this week’s readings against last week’s readings is hard to ignore. Last week, Peter was “all in” when Jesus commanded him to build a Church, essentially to marshal a spiritual army of disciples and storm the gates of the sinful world with the power of God’s grace. This week, later in the same scene, Jesus articulates the cost of discipleship and Peter balks. What does his example say about us?
All of Me. All week long, we have read how Paul and his companions encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere in the faith and put it into practice in every facet of their lives. Additionally, Paul thanked them for their faithful witness to others, which paved the way for further evangelization efforts. Perhaps, Paul was so effective with the Thessalonians because he gave so much of himself to them. “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thes 2:8). In the first reading, we find Jeremiah giving all of himself to God, as well. Clearly, he’s not in the prophecy business for the attention; he laments that he is the object of laughter and mockery. However, Jeremiah is fueled by a burning love for God, whose presence in him is so powerful that the only way to relieve it is to speak on God’s behalf. Do you have the courage to speak for God? If not, ask Him for it.
My Own Man. Jeremiah is a good example of someone who had given himself over completely to God, so much that he could no longer do his own will, only God’s. He was no longer his own man; his example is epitome of the second reading. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). In the gospel reading, Peter, on the other hand, shows himself to still be his own man, at least to a degree. When he tries to stand in the way of Jesus’s march to the cross, Jesus points this out to him. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23b). Note how opposing Jesus tends to be non-productive. Sure, Peter loves Jesus and is simply trying to protect his earthly life. However, like us, Peter needs to begin to look beyond earthly things and fix his eyes upon heaven, to genuinely thirst for God (Ps 63).
Get Behind Me. Jesus’s words to Peter must have cut right to his heart. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Mt 16:23a). How had Peter, the rock upon which Jesus’s church would be built, become so great an obstacle that Jesus characterized him as the devil himself?! Why did Jesus go to such an extreme? Perhaps, the key is later in the gospel reading. “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” (Mt 16:24-25). Peter speaks the language of the Great Deceiver. The Big Lie is that the Christian life can be lived without the cross, without suffering. Jesus told Peter to get behind him and then explained precisely what following him entails. Like Peter, we tend think in terms of self-protection while God “thinks” in terms of self-emptying love. Transform your mind to think as God does; choose love and get behind Jesus to live the life of a saint.
Catholicism 101. What does it mean to offer it up? This commonly-heard phrase points to Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering. This is the belief that our suffering, when accepted and offered to Jesus as a gift, in union with His Passion, can remit the just punishment for one’s sins or for the sins of another. Redemptive suffering, however, does not gain you forgiveness; you still have to go to confession. Forgiveness results from God’s grace, which is freely given through Christ and thus cannot be earned. So, where is all this in scripture? Here’s a good start. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). What could possibly be lacking in the afflictions of Christ?! Nothing…except perhaps our participation, so get out there and offer it up! To learn more, check out Appreciating the Gift of Suffering by Gary Zimak.