You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Jesus honored his inspired
and heartfelt response with the "keys of the Kingdom" and the announcement that Peter was the rock upon which Jesus would
build his Church.
Last weeks Gospel reading and todays reading are two parts of one event described by Matthew. For no sooner do we hear
Peter gloriously announce that Jesus is the messiah, than Jesus begins to explain that his messiahship involves going to Jerusalem
where he will be tortured and subjected to the most gruesome and humiliating of deaths, though on the third day he will be
This is a crisis point in Matthews gospel. So far, the goal of the gospel has been to slowly and convincingly reveal that
Jesus is the promised messiahthe Son of the living God! When Peter proclaims this, the goal of the first half of Matthews
gospel is achieved. Immediately we turn to the implication of what it means to be the messiahglorious transformation and resurrection
but only through the gate of suffering and death!
Peter is dumbfounded! Again from his heart, he cries out, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." This
talk of suffering and death is crazy talk. How can the messiah save anyone if he is killed? There is real terror in Peters
heart as he cries out to Jesus. Imagine the shock when Jesus doesnt console Peter, when Jesus doesnt tell Peter he misunderstood.
Rather, Jesus is actually angry at Peter and calls him a "satan"an adversary, an enemy!
It is wonderful to hear of the awesome power and glory of God. It is wonderful to hear about the depth and power of Gods
love for us. It is wonderful to listen to the parables and absorb some of the wisdom they contain. There comes a point however
where we are faced with the questionis all of this only beautiful words or is the Gospel making a demand of me?
Jesus makes it clear that the Good News is not just pretty words. Gods love for us costs him his Son! Jesus messiahship
is not about glory and earthly power! There is a terrible price to be paid! Jesus knows this and is letting his disciples
know this. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
When we think of denying ourselves, often we understand this as giving up cake or cookies during Lent. This is not what
Jesus is talking about in this verse. We get a clearer understanding of the meaning from St. Paul (Philippians 2:6-7), "His
state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and
became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross."
The first reading today, offers the angry response of the prophet Jeremiah when he realized what price he would have to
pay for being Gods prophet. "You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed."
It is not difficult to imagine a similar response in Peter. He wanted to be his own man. Jesus had just honored him as
the rock upon which his Church would be built. What Peter loosed would be loosed and what Peter bound would be bound! Then
two minutes later Jesus is telling him that he cant be his own man. We can almost hear Peter cry outWhat do you want of me!!
Take up your cross and follow me.
Jesus had invited Peter to follow him in the beginning by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was again inviting Peter to follow
him, only this time it was clear that following Jesus was something very different from what he first imagined. It was Peters
will that Jesus triumph over the scribes and pharisees who opposed him first and eventually over the Roman oppressor. Peter
learned that it was Gods will that the road to ultimate triumph go through failure and humiliating death on a cross. It was
Peters will that that he sit at the right hand of the Messiah and rule over others as the Messiahs regent. It was Gods will
that Peter follow his master. If Peter was to sit at the right hand of Jesus, it would be on a cross.
This Gospel reading frightens me, It has always frightened me. Like Peter we are being told to deny ourselves. I want comfort.
I want honor. I want good health for myself and my family. I want my children and my grandchildren around me. I want freedom
from debt. I want the opportunity to use my talents for the benefit of others. I want all of these things and they are all
good thingsbut these are my desires and Jesus says that I must deny myself! If I am to follow Jesus, I must crucify each of
these desires. If we are to follow Jesus, we must crucify each of our desires. I must offer each and all of my desires on
the altar of sacrifice, as St. Paul instructs in the second reading, and then discern the will of Godtrusting that ultimately
Gods will is good, pleasing and perfect. Not my will, but Thy will be done!
We can only imagine what inner turmoil Peter experienced in the days that followed. Though, much to Peters credit, when
Matthew picks up the Gospel story again it is six days later, Peter is with Jesus and they are on the road to Jerusalem.