Pentecost 12, Accepting our own Cross

Title:Pentecost 12, Accepting our own Cross

Today’s readings remind us how we are transformed by our following of Jesus and accepting our own cross. Jeremiah confesses that, though frustrated by God’s demands, he cannot turn away from God. Paul’s lengthy discussion of God’s plan of salvation leads him to call for a radical transformation of mind and body in conformity with God’s will and. Jesus’ prediction of suffering and death shows the disciples that God’s ways are different from human methods.

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Jeremiah’s proclamation to the people in exile–that Babylon was the instrument of God’s judgment upon the people and that Judah should not resist–caused him to be regarded as a traitor by his own people. He has prayed for his enemies (14:7-11), but they have not listened to God’s message. Now the prophet’s concern for them is exhausted and he cries out for the Lord to take vengeance upon them. He affirms that he has been nourished on God’s word (1:9), but protests that God’s hand, usually a figure of inspiration and blessing, has become an intolerable burden. God responds that if Jeremiah will return again, assurance of support will also be renewed (1:18-19). The reward for Jeremiah’s faithful service is not relief from suffering but more service.

Romans 12:9-21

In the preceding passage (12:3-8), Paul delineated the diversity of roles and tasks within the Christian community. The standards he sets forth in today’s reading should prevail regardless of each member’s “function” (12:4).

Love for one another must be without hypocrisy, characterized by humility, generosity and sympathy. Christians should earn a reputation for meekness, moral uprightness, peacefulness and patience. They should recoil with loathing from evil and embrace all that is good. Their passion for prayer and service should not diminish over time, but continue to result in blessing and a willingness to give themselves in humility to whatever tasks God presents.

Revenge belongs to God alone. In verse 20, Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 to illustrate the overcoming power of kindness. Such acts of goodness may or may not lead to the enemy’s repentance, but they have an intrinsic power that is stronger than evil and will, finally, prevail.

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus responds to Peter’s confession (16:16) by foretelling his own passion and by teaching on discipleship. Matthew emphasizes that Jesus’ death and resurrection are part of God’s plan—indicated by the word “must”—in fulfillment of the scriptures (26:54).

The anticipation of suffering and death was totally at odds with what was expected for and of the Messiah. Peter expresses this, once again speaking as the disciples’ representative. Matthew makes Peter’s response more vivid than Mark did by putting it into direct speech (Mark 8:32).

We do not know Peter’s exact words, but perhaps we can imagine them from our own temptations. “Not Jerusalem! You will accomplish nothing there except your own death. It’s your responsibility to act prudently, to take care of us, your disciples, and continue the good work that, after all, you have just begun.”

Jesus responds to Peter’s rebuke as a continuation of Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (4:10). Instead of Peter, Jesus now calls his friend “Satan.” Instead of praising him for a divine revelation, Jesus now declares that Peter’s heart is set on worldly goals, not God’s goals. Not only will Jesus continue to Jerusalem, but all those who want to be his disciples must be ready to die with him—not only in Jerusalem but in every day of their lives.

Peter, like Satan, is tempting Jesus to listen not to God’s voice but his own. Unlike Satan, Peter does not offer Jesus wealth, power and fame. Instead Peter speaks for the temptations that beset most of us—temptations to security, ease and the approval of those we love.

As Peter has been called the rock of foundation for the Church (16:18), so here he is a “stumbling block” because he has his mind set on human goals and priorities.

These may be the hardest temptations to conquer. In today’s gospel, whatever Peter’s words, whatever images they evoke in Jesus’ heart, Jesus does not turn aside. And as he walks, he sees us hesitating behind him, uncertain of our own choice. He asks us: “What will your life be worth if you give up its meaning?” What do we answer? Where do we walk?

There is another side to the promise of 16:17-19. Jesus teaches the disciples that, as suffering is the price of messiahship, so it is also the cost of discipleship. The disciples must “deny themselves”—renounce all human things that keep them from following the example of Jesus. The word “life” means also “self.” To save one’s life/self in the world’s terms is to lose it in God’s and vice versa. The disciple must choose again and again between Satan’s offer (4:8-9) and Jesus’ (5:3-12).