September 3, 2023
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” Matthew 16:24–26
Just before Jesus gave this teaching, He predicted to the Twelve for the first time that He would “suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” In fear, Peter objected, saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” To Peter’s statement, Jesus responds firmly, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” What a difficult thing that must have been to hear from Jesus!
Jesus was ready and willing to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. He knew that by dying He would transform death itself into the very means of eternal salvation. He knew that laying down His life in this way was the greatest act of love He could offer; therefore, Jesus didn’t hesitate at all. He was ready and willing to give His human life so that we could live.
To understand this we must realize three things. First, by assuming our human nature, Jesus forged a bond between God and humanity. Second, by sharing in our death He made it possible for us to cling to Him in our own death. Third, by rising from the dead, Jesus made it possible for those who cling to Him in death to also share in His Resurrection. Though we will only fully understand this great mystery of redemption in Heaven, we must strive to comprehend it as best we can here on earth.
Peter did not understand this, at least not at that moment when Jesus first revealed it. Peter allowed fear to tempt him to interfere in Jesus’ glorious act of salvation. This is why Jesus rebuked him so strongly. It was a loving rebuke meant to free Peter from his fear and to give him courage to embrace the Sacrifice Jesus was about to offer.
The passage quoted above follows Peter’s rebuke and is Jesus’ instruction on how we will all share in His gift of salvation. In order to rise with Christ, we must freely die with Him. We must deny ourselves, meaning all selfishness and sin, and imitate Jesus’ heroic sacrificial gift of His life. The result will be that we are united to Him in His death and in His Resurrection to new life.
Fear can paralyze us. But fear, in this case, is a response that is based on an error. We embrace that error when we act out of selfishness. Each of us will die. That’s a fact. The question is how we die. We can either die selfishly, seeing our earthly life as the center of all. Or we can die in a self-giving way with our Lord by uniting ourselves to His act of sacrificial love. We do this by turning our eyes away from ourselves and seeking out every way that we can imitate Jesus’ death. We must strive to serve, live sacrificially, put God’s will first, unite ourselves to Christ, and make love for our neighbor our mission in life. This is what Jesus did. When we do this, we take up our cross, follow Him, die with Him, and are prepared to share in His Resurrection. This is the only way to eternal life.
Reflect, today, upon the words “Take up your cross and follow Me.” This is Jesus’ most sacred instruction to us all on how we should live and how we will share in His gift of eternal life. What cross in your life are you fearful of? What act of sacrifice do you avoid? True love hurts in the sense that it is always selfless. We must die to ourselves. Reflect upon any way that you fail to do this, and allow Jesus’ rebuke of Peter to also rebuke you so that you will be freed from the fear of this holy sacrificial love that will unite you to our Lord.
My sacrificial Lord, You did not fear laying down Your sacred life for us all. You embraced Your mission of love by entering into death itself so that we could die with You and thus share in Your Resurrection. Please free me from all fear of the crosses in my life and help me to fully embrace a life of sacrificial love. Jesus, I trust in You.