Monday, September 7, 2009

The Way of the Cross

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2009

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

He rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

Everyone has spiritual highs and lows.  Peter certainly represents for all of us the ups and downs of life in the Spirit.  And like Peter we grow in grace and embrace denying ourselves rather than Jesus.  Also, like Peter, we resolve to 'take up the cross and follow Jesus,' all the way, 'for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.'

Deep in his heart, Peter believed Jesus to be the only Son of God.  Peter wanted no harm to come to the Treasure he knew Jesus to be.  As Jesus spoke openly of his rejection and death and resurrection, Peter wanted no part of it.  Well, he did, but he didn't.  Thinking maybe Jesus was getting a little to weird, Peter takes Jesus by the shoulders and looks straight into the eyes of his Master and rebukes him. 

We can only imagine what Peter said.  Perhaps it went something like this:

"Jesus, no.  Nothing can happen to you.  The chief priests will come around.  Besides, me and the other guys won't let anything happen to you.  I promise.  It'll be O.K. Even if everyone else deserts you, I'll stand with you.  There will be no death.  No way!"

Jesus knowing the spirit of compromise cannot be left unchallenged, turns his back, literally, to everything Peter is saying. Then speaks forcefully:

"Get behind me, Satan!  It's not God's side your on, but the way of men.  My Kingdom is not of this world!"

To follow Christ will require choices.  There will always be opportunities to water down the message, to want the friendship of the world.  Jesus knowing this speaks plainly about sacrifice and self-denial and losing one's life for His sake and the gospel.  

Soon, Jesus will experience exactly what he has predicted; suffering and rejection and loss of life. And for Peter, well, he'll follow at a distance.  For a while he will be near but not too close.  Some will recognize him and accuse him of being a follower of this maniac called Jesus.  Of course, Peter will deny it:

"Who, me?  Not me!  I don't know the guy."

Three times this happens.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." (Luke 22:61)

And Peter broke down and wept. (Mark 14:72)

We have all been there.  

The scandal of the cross and carrying it daily is not the path of least resistance.  Believers are truly counter to contemporary thinking, that is, we challenge ourselves and those around us to embrace faith, hope and love.  We point to the cross and say: 

"It's the way of that man.  This man endured for our sake and for our salvation, hardship, persecution, and death.  And on the third day, he rose from the dead victorious over all the power of the devil.  And we will rise too, just as he promised, just as he did."

For some this is a stumbling block.  It was for Peter, at least at first.  Then it became his own, his life and his ministry.  And in the end, the enemies of the Church decided to do to him what was done to his Master.  Peter objected, insisting he was not worthy to be crucified like his Master, asking to be crucified upside down.   

Just as he asked Peter and all of his disciples, Jesus asks us to abandon ourselves to the way and the power of the cross.    

Let us pray: Dear God our Father, may I always glory in the cross, and for the sake of Jesus and his gospel, live the cross by the Spirit's power.  Amen.  

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