Sunday, September 3, 2017
First prophecy of the passion
The scandal of the cross
Matthew 16: 21-27
1. Opening prayer
Spirit of truth, sent by Jesus to guide us to the whole truth, enlighten our minds so that we may understand the Scriptures. You who overshadowed Mary and made her fruitful ground where the Word of God could germinate, purify our hearts from all obstacles to the Word. Help us to learn like her to listen with good and pure hearts to the Word that God speaks to us in life and in Scripture, so that we may observe the Word and produce good fruit through our perseverance.
a) The context:
Mt 16: 21-27 is after Peter’s profession of faith (16: 13-20) and before the transfiguration (17: 1-8) and is strongly connected with these two events. Jesus asks the twelve to tell him who do people say he is and then wants to know who do the twelve say he is. Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16: 16). Jesus not only accepts this profession of faith, but also explicitly says that it is God who has revealed his true identity to Peter. Yet he insists that the disciples must not tell anyone that he is the messiah. Jesus knows well that this title can be misunderstood and he does not want to run the risk. "From that time" (16: 21) he gradually begins to explain to the twelve what it means to be the messiah; he is the suffering messiah who will enter into his glory through the cross.
The text we are considering is divided into to parts. In the first part (vv. 21-23), Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and shows that he is completely determined to follow God’s plan for him in spite of Peter’s protestations. In the second part (vv. 24-27), Jesus shows the consequences of recognising him as the suffering messiah for his disciples. No one can be his disciple unless he/she walks the same road.
But Jesus knows well that it is difficult for the twelve to accept his and their cross, and, to reassure them, he gives them a foretaste of his resurrection in his transfiguration (17: 1-8).
b) The text:
21-23: From then onwards Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.' But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.'
24-27: Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life? Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life? 'For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his behaviour.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Why does Peter try to deter Jesus from facing the passion?
b) Why does Jesus call Peter Satan?
c) How do you confront life, with the logic of God and of Jesus or with human logic and that of Peter?
d) In your concrete everyday life, what does it mean to lose ones life for the sake of Jesus?
e) What are your crosses and who are your Peters?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the text.
"Destined to go to Jerusalem…"
The four verbs "go", "suffer", "be put to death" and "be raised" (v. 21) are governed by the word "destined" or "had to". This is a verb, which in the New Testament has a precise theological meaning. It denotes that it is the will of God that something happens because it is part of God’s plan of salvation.
The death of Jesus may be seen as the consequence of the "logic" of the attitude he took towards the institutions of his people. Like every uncomfortable prophet he was removed. But the New Testament insists that his death (and resurrection) is part of God’s plan, which Jesus accepted freely.
"You are an obstacle in my path"
Obstacle means hold-up or trap. To be an obstacle means to confront someone with impediments that would divert that person form the way to follow. Peter is an obstacle for Jesus because he tries to swerve from the way of obedience to the will of the Father in order to go an easier way. That is why Jesus compares him to Satan, who at the beginning of his ministry had sought to divert Jesus from the path of his mission, proposing an easy messianic mission (see Mt 4: 1-11).
"Anyone who loses his life… will find it"
Anyone who understands well the mystery of Jesus and the nature of his mission also understands what it means to be his disciple. The two things are intimately linked.
Jesus himself lays down three conditions for those who wish to be his disciples: renunciation of self, the taking up of one’s cross and following him (v.24). To renounce oneself means not to focus one’s life on one’s self but on God and on the plan of his Reign. This implies an acceptance of adversity and putting up with difficulties. Jesus himself left us his example of how to deal with such circumstances. It suffices to imitate him. He does not compromise his fidelity to the Father and to His Reign, and he remains faithful even to giving his life. It was precisely thus that he came to the fullness of life in the resurrection.
6. Psalm 40
The invocation for help of one who has remained faithful to God
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods!
Thou hast multiplied, O Lord my God,
thy wondrous deeds and thy thoughts toward us;
none can compare with thee!
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be numbered.
Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire;
but thou hast given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required.
Then I said, "Lo, I come;
in the roll of the book it is written of me;
I delight to do thy will,
O my God; thy law is within my heart."
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
lo, I have not restrained my lips,
as thou knowest, O Lord.
I have not hid thy saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of thy faithfulness and thy salvation;
I have not concealed thy steadfast love
and thy faithfulness from the great congregation.
Do not thou, O Lord,
withhold thy mercy from me,
let thy steadfast love
and thy faithfulness ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
till I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let them be put to shame and confusion altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let them be turned back and brought to dishonour
who desire my hurt!
Let them be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"
But may all who seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee;
may those who love thy salvation say continually,
"Great is the Lord!"
As for me, I am poor and needy;
but the Lord takes thought for me.
Thou art my help and my deliverer;
do not tarry, O my God!
7. Closing prayer
O God, your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. In your plan of salvation there is also room for the cross. Your Son, Jesus, did not retreat before the cross, but "endured the cross and disregarded the shamefulness of it" (Heb 12: 2). The hostility of his enemies could not distract him from his firm intent to fulfil your will and proclaim the Reign, cost what it may.
Strengthen us, Father, with the gift of your Spirit. May he enable us to follow Jesus resolutely and faithfully. May he make us his imitators in deed and make your Reign the centre of our lives. May he give us strength to bear adversity and difficulties so that true life may blossom in us and in all humankind.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen