The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
September 1, 2002
Jeremiah 20:7-9 + Romans 12:1-2 + Matthew 16:21-27
It would be easy to think that this Gospel is about Peter, but I don’t think so. The easy way is rarely the right way, or the way that is going to take us deeper into what is revealed or into what God is saying to us through His Word. It is more difficult to focus on Jesus in these verses than on Peter. We understand Peter’s reaction. It is our own. Nothing in his history; nothing in his scriptures; nothing in his tradition prepared him for a Messiah/Hero who would suffer disgrace. We do not connect with Peter here. There is nothing to be gained by identity with him or his attitude.
We know things differently. We have seen and come to believe in the Messiah, Jesus. We are not invited by this Gospel to follow or imitate Peter, but rather, Jesus Christ. In the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, the very next story is the Transfiguration; but up to this point, Peter is in the dark. He has no clue about how things are going to work out. We do. Jeremiah is the clue that opens this Gospel for us and shifts our focus from Peter to Jesus. He is the prophet who meets opposition, is ridiculed and mocked, yet stays with God’s plan because in the first chapter of Jeremiah God says: “…have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you.”
So the task we find in this text is to focus on Jesus Christ, to wonder how he was able to remain faithful,
and then draw from his story the strength, the knowledge, and the understanding to do the same. We must avoid the temptation to trivialize or minimize his trust in God by the thinking that because he was Divine, he had it made. The Divinity of Christ did not keep him from fear, doubt, or anxiety. Minimizing his full humanity robs this text of its power to transform and encourage us. Just as Peter had to surrender his preconceived ideas about a messiah, we must surrender any idea that proposes that good, holy, just, and faithful people should be free of suffering, free of fear, and free of doubt.
If we live in this life, we are going to know those things, and having terrible things happen does not mean that we are bad, being punished, or that God has turned away from us. In the face of tragedy and suffering there is no reason to think God has left us. On the contrary, these times are the greatest occasions to discover just the opposite. That is what Jesus found, and what Peter had to learn. He learned it by going to Jerusalem with Jesus. He learned it by going all the way, and losing his life in order to find it, just as the master did before him. “Losing” one’s life does not always mean the ultimate act of martyrdom.
None of us lives a day without losses. Things do not happen the way we had planned. People do not say what we expect. Disappointments and frustrations pile up, and the best made plans fall apart. Large and little losses can make those who bear them bitter and cause them to complain that life is not fair. But this is what we learn from Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Losing one’s life can mean finding one’s soul. These losses can set us free, and when we are free like Jesus to surrender to and embrace the will of God, we shall know what Jeremiah knew, believed and lived: that there is no reason for fear because God is with us.