JEREMIAH 20:7-9 | ROMANS 12:1-2 | MATTHEW 16:21-27
A short time ago Jesus had brought the apostles to the sacred district of Caesarea Philippi. There Simon made a profound, public profession of faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was exuberant. He even gave Simon a new name, Peter, a rock. He promised him the keys of the kingdom of God, and assured him that the powers of darkness would never prevail. What a moment that was! Peter and the other apostles left that district on a religious high.
Simon Peter’s profession revealed Jesus as the Messiah. The joy that the apostles felt ignited their fantasies of power and glory, the Messiah leading a march into Jerusalem riding a magnificent horse, and followed by a great army. He would ascend the throne of a liberated and independent Israel. It took but a moment for Jesus to dissolve their fantasies. “Jesus began to instruct his disciples 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 raised.”
The apostles were high on thoughts of power. Jesus’ prediction of his death threw them for a loop. Simon Peter, again the first to speak, rebuked him. “God forgive, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Poor Simon Peter, his heart was in the right place. What a shock when Jesus, burning with anger and frustration, spat at him, “Get behind me, Satan!” It seemed like one minute he was joyfully changing Simon’s name and giving him the keys to the kingdom of God, and then suddenly,
he was calling him the king of tempters, Satan. He commanded him to step back into line, and begin “to think like God does, not like humans.” Simon Peter stood there, silent, embarrassed, confused.
Then Jesus turned to the rest of the apostles and hit them with a teaching that would take them a lifetime to digest. “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.”
That was a mouthful, wasn’t it!? The disciples must have been speechless when they heard him. They were hoping to be princes in Jesus’ kingdom; what’s this about denying oneself? What did he mean that they needed to lose their lives in order to find life? Was he out of his mind challenging them to accept death on a cross?
The teaching coming from this scene is of utmost important for every disciple to contemplate, not only once, but every day. It’s the guide to the Christian way of life. Jesus is telling us, his beloved disciples, that we’re wrong if we think we’re alive. Our concept of life was a fantasy. Longing for power and fame are distractions. We discover true life by pouring out our lives in the service of others. Jesus is teaching us that we’ll have to liberate ourselves from our ego’s selfishness if we hope for real life – the life he’s offering us. Let’s conclude this reflection with the words Jesus spoke so many times. “Let those who have ears to hear, hear.”