Aug 30, 2014

22nd Sunday: From beginning to end

(John Kohan)
"Take up his cross and follow me."

Jer20: 7-9
Rm 12: 1-2
Mt 16: 21-27

Any path or yard that is filled with rocks and stones would need to be cleared before you laid down fresh grass or a garden.  You would carefully remove these obstacles, lay down fresh soil, plant and fertilize.  The results would be worth your effort and time spent.

Our Gospel this Sunday, a continuation of Jesus’ conversation with Peter last Sunday, is a startling shake up of last Sunday’s statement by Peter to Jesus:  “You are the Christ” to which Jesus said, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my Church.”

So Peter the rock, maybe filled with a bit of now self-importance, again speaks to Jesus but Jesus’ reaction is startling:  “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Suddenly Peter the rock now stands in the way of Jesus movement forward.  This rock needs to be moved before Jesus can continue. Similar words were spoken to the devil by Jesus during his temptation in the desert.  On three occasions the evil one failed to tempt Jesus to abandon his mission of selfless service and sacrifice rather than give in to vain glory and power. So what is the tension we see today?

Now, Jesus must remind his disciples who “the Christ” truly is and what God intends his mission to be – an act of profound love through the sacrifice of his own Son for the sake of humanity’s salvation.  It’s not intended to be all glory and honor but now Jesus must return to Jerusalem where all the prophets of old were killed and complete his full mission from beginning to end.  

Peter who thinks “not as God does but as human beings do” is confronted that his earthly expectation stands in the way, blocks the path like Satan in the desert, of Jesus fulfilling his mission.  Still, one may wonder on merely a human level, if Jesus did not find it hard to resist Peter’s invitation to save him from such a fate. Here they are, in Caesarea Philippi, far northern country, away from the approaching darkness in Jerusalem and the hostile authorities, where no one knew they had gone.  Why couldn’t Jesus and his disciples just take their time and allow things to cool off and blow over? Just hide out for a while and reassess their mission before it’s too late.

It would be impossible to second guess Jesus’ thought but a temptation is hard to resist at times.  When such involves life or death – ease or suffering, most of us would likely run away and just say, “It isn’t worth it after all.” Yet, God’s plan is yet hidden from Peter's understanding.  So, move aside “rock” and follow. Peter and the others must have been puzzled by Jesus sudden turn away from opportunity.

Like Jeremiah in our first reading, who viewed his call to prophesy as a con job from God, “You duped me O Lord and I let myself be duped” still could not resist the responsibility God asked of him to call the people to task and warn them of the destruction that was coming.  Jeremiah could not hold back because to do so would be like, “fire burning in my heart.”  He must fulfill his God given mission.  Jesus stands in the line of the great prophets and he too must carry through on his Father’s plan for humanity despite the personal cost.

But, that is not where it ends.  If we are to be authentic disciples of the Lord, we too must follow our mission – that given us at our baptism.  Jesus reminds us as this Gospel continues: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Our discipleship, when we were marked with the sign of the cross at our baptism and cleansed in the water of life, forever set us in one direction – to have the privilege and the burden to share in the mission of Jesus from beginning to end.

In light of this, does Jesus imply simply to put up with suffering patiently? To just endure disappointments in life? Scholars have pointed out that this phrase of Jesus to “take up your cross” would have meant nothing to anyone before Jesus himself took up his own.  So, what Jesus might mean here is that we, as disciples of the Lord, must imitate our Lord’s fidelity to all that his Father asked of him.  His cross was the culmination of his lifelong loyalty. In ancient times, a faithful Jew had a way to say the same.  

In the time of our Lord, the letter tau, T, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was often used as a sign. When a person wanted to say they have completed a task from beginning to end, they would refer to the tau and say, “I did it to the tau.” Just as we would say, “I did it all from A to Z.” Note the tau – T – is similar to a cross.

The most faithful of Jews would embroider a tau on their clothing to show their total dedication to the sacred law. For Jesus, his faithful commitment to his entire mission from birth to his death on the cross is the model for all of us.  Jesus’ tau – T – his cross became for us a sign of victory over evil in the resurrection.  So too, we are called to be open and receptive to all that God asks of us from beginning to end – to carry our T, our cross to the end. That openness to God implies daily humility and to always seek what God is asking of us. We must deny ourselves as Jesus did in an act of humble service.

So, it’s not only about occasional burdens, daily crosses to carry, but rather about the loyalty of our entire lives as daily witnesses to the Christian Gospel – from beginning to end.  We do so most perfectly in the community of the Church and share one another’s joys and sorrows; one another’s crosses and resurrections all the way to the tau – T.
God of power and might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name,
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence,
you too may nurture in us what is good
and by your watchful care,
keep safe what you have nurtured.
(Collect for Mass)