CROSSed out – Matthew 16:21-27

Last Sunday’s Gospel ended with Jesus sternly ordering the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. The profession of Peter was a flesh and blood declaration for even though he may have professed it, he and the others had certainly not understood it. In the absence of such an understanding, Peter and the others were ordered to be silent. Yet to them incredible power is given, power to bind and loose on earth things in the name of Christ.

The class on messiahship was not over, things still needed to be explained. So Jesus now ventures to explain the role of the Messiah. Unlike popular belief, the Messiah would not be one to rescue people from their earthly challenges but one who would ironically die to save them eternally. This very understanding, defied every image of the Jewish people, as to who the Messiah was to be.

Verse twenty-one sets the tone of who the Messiah would be. This is the first of three passion predictions of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (16:21, 17:22-33, 20:17-19). Unlike  Mark’s Gospel where Jesus would ‘teach’ his disciples about his passion, here, Matthew indicates that from ‘this time on, Jesus would begin to SHOW his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering.’

That Jesus wants to demonstrate this suffering rather than teach it is a clear indication that we are not to be mere witnesses to his passion but are to be participants in it. We are to live the passion death and resurrection in our life. And this is not an option; for just as Christ ‘must got to Jerusalem’ so must we take up our cross and follow him (verse 24)

The words of Christ must have been a bolt out of the blue for Peter. Here he was, minutes after being instituted with incredible power only to be told that he would have to follow the master to his passion and death. The lure of power, security and influence had taken control of Peter and having made it to the top of the list, all this seemed to be slipping through his fingers before he even had the chance to cradle it in his palms, just once.

Peter rebukes Jesus; mercifully he ‘took him aside’, as it were, spare Jesus of a public remonstration only to be harshly reprimanded himself. Jesus calls Peter the deceiver (Satan) words that would take us back to Matthew 4:1-11 where Satan attempted to sway Jesus from his mission by dazzling earthly trinkets of power and fame and position. But while the devil was told to ‘go away’ (hypage in Greek), Peter is also reminded of his place as a disciple; he was to get behind and fall in line. (hypage opiso mou)

Peter’s desires have now become a ‘stumbling block’ to the understanding of who and what the Messiah should be. Ironically Peter does not stand alone, for we too may also find ourselves not far behind when we wish for a relaxed form of Christian living, one where we could avoid the cross.

Jesus has to set the record straight and perhaps straighten a faltering line of disciples. He does this with five sayings addressed to his disciples on the cost of discipleship. Clearly the cross is at the centre of it all. We are called to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Jesus.  Perhaps for most of us this cross is metaphorical and not real. We don’t expect to really die on a cross. Yet Jesus is not calling us to merely venerate the cross he is actually asking us to die on it like he did.

In telling his disciples to ‘take up your cross’ he is not ‘giving us a cross’ as many imagine. We speak of God giving us a cross in our life as if we are doing Him a favour by carrying it; as if this is our ticket to heaven if we bear it successfully. Jesus never gives us a cross he asks us to take or pick up the cross so that like him we may die on it. Sadly, every hardship, no matter how hard, will be inadvertently trivialized unless we are willing to die on it.


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