22nd Sunday O T Year – A – 14
Jer.20:7-9; Rom.12:1-2; Matt.16:21-27
A dying father called his three sons in order to give each one of them their inheritance. To the First son he said: “My son, I will give you our house as your inheritance.” So the first son was so happy because he will inherit from his father the beautiful and palatial house.
The father said to the second son: “My son, I will give you our land as your inheritance from me.” So the second son was so happy because he will inherit the vast tract of land that they have which was productive and fertile.
The father said to the last son: “My son, because I love you so much and you are my favorite. I find pleasure in you and so I will give you my cross as your inheritance.” The younger son was so sad because he neither received nor inherited the house and the land.
He was angry with his father. In the evening, he threw the cross and it hit the wall of their house and so the cross was broken. To his surprise, inside the cross were diamonds, gold and other precious stones in the world. He said to himself: “My father is right, he really loves me.”
In our relation with the Heavenly Father as His children, He loves us so much that He gives us crosses not because He wants us to suffer but because He wants us to have better lives. I remember St. Teresa of Avila complaining to the Lord why she always had the cross, trials and difficulties in her lives. Jesus answered her: “That is the way how I treat my friends.”
The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christian discipleship demands self-control (“Deny yourself”), the willingness to suffer (“take up your cross”), generosity (“to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God”), and readiness to follow Jesus by obeying his commandment of love.
In the first reading we see Jeremiah and he is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ. The prophet Jeremiah lived about 650 years before Christ. Jeremiah was sent by God, “to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow” (Jer.1:10). But Jeremiah was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God’s mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results that would follow from their plan of revolt against the mighty power of Babylon. So he became depressed and complained bitterly to God. In today’s passage Jeremiah accuses Yahweh of tricking him.
In the second reading, Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their Christian lives in such a way that they differ both from the Jews and from the pagans. St. Paul calls them and us to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in our worship of God. In order to do this, we must explicitly reject the behavior of the world around us. Paul tells them, and us “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” to God.
Once a husband came home from church and suddenly lifted his wife and carried her around the house. The startled wife said, “Why did you do that? Did the priest tell you to be romantic?” The husband replied: “No! He told me to carry my cross!” (It could be the other way around, but the husband is heavier).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise. After Peter’s great confession of faith, he announces 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 could not bear the idea of a suffering Messiah. It was then that Jesus rebuked him so sternly, “Get behind me, Satan,”
When we reflect on the words, “Get behind me, Satan,” Origen the great writer suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It’s your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go.” Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ’s follower.
After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship or we can say the challenge of Christian life. There are three things we must be prepared to do in order to live the Christian life: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
First, we must deny ourselves. Jesus Christ demands self-denial, that is, self-negations a necessary condition of discipleship. In a strict sense, this is called self-denial which means self-emptying. The required denial is of carnal self, the egocentric, self-deifying urge with which we were born and which dominates us so ruinously in our natural state. It is because usually we treat ourselves as if we were the most important persons.
It should be the other way around: We should forget about ourselves and acknowledge the Lord in all our acts even if this means persecution and death so that Christ may acknowledge us in heaven. Self-denial means giving up something like we have to give up our vices like drinking, smoking, womanizing, gambling and others. It means we have to set aside our own self and put God at the center of our lives.
But this is only a very small part of what Jesus meant by self-denial. To deny oneself means that in every moment of our lives we have to say no to ourselves and yes to God or to dethrone ourselves and to enthrone God.
Second, we must carry our cross. What kind of a cross we must carry? Is it a bad luck or a blessing? Billy Graham in his “The Offense of the Cross,” said that when Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,” it was the same as saying, “Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.”
He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind. Jesus had in mind a place of execution. The cross is a plus sign. The redemption pictured by the cross has put a big plus sign in our lives. The cross is a positive sign in our lives. We, priests when we give a blessing or when we bless things for spiritual use, we make the sign of the cross.
We carry our cross if every day we are faithful to Him. Are we faithful with our prayer as well as in attending Masses? Are we faithful in reading the Bible by which we know Christ more fully? If not, then let us think and reflect all over again.
The father was approached by his small son who told him proudly, “I know what the Bible means!” His father smiled and replied, “What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means? The son replied, “I do know!” “Okay,” said his father. “What does the Bible mean?” “That’s easy, Daddy…” the young boy replied excitedly.” It stands for ‘Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.’
Third, we must follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus means that, as Disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of love. Someone said: “Only those who obey can believe and only those who believe can obey.” That is to say, we must render to Jesus Christ a perfect obedience.
To follow someone who has asked us to “take up our cross” daily seems foolish. But in the words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “to be a fool for Christ is the greatest compliment the world can give. You and I are in good company, because most of the saints embraced the Cross of Christ and were considered fools for doing so.”
We need to ask these questions as we examine our conscience today. Does my Church offer a Faith strong enough to command a sacrifice on my part? Do I have enough Faith to offer up a genuine sacrifice for Christ’s sake? Can a Church in today’s self-centered culture ask its people to sacrifice something for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus’ challenge to all would-be disciples requires more than a “feel-good” spirituality. A true disciple asks, “Am I willing to sacrifice something for the kingdom?” Amen.