By the Rev. Ken Kesselus
Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; or Jeremiah 15:15-21, Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Today, though, it’s not so fun. Today we hear Jesus telling Peter and the disciples the sacrificial cost of what he must do to carry out God’s will for all people – and the sacrificial cost of what they must do as the body of Christ.
Jesus said, “You are right in saying I am the Messiah, but since I am, I must go up to Jerusalem where I will suffer much and be rejected by the religious leaders. There I will be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Typically, Peter took the initiative again, speaking for the disciples: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
In a sense Peter is boasting, “We will protect you. We will see that you are accepted and not rejected. We will never let you die.” Peter did not want for his leader to experience pain, unpleasantness, suffering, rejection, death. This did not fit the disciples’ idea of what it meant for their leader to be the Messiah.
Hearing this, Jesus became so angry that he took Peter to task and said to him, “Get behind me Satan!” Frustrated, Jesus was saying, “Peter, once more you do not understand what is going on. You are the one I am most counting on to provide leadership when I am gone. I need for you, above all, to understand, and you still don't know what God truly intends for his Christ and for you.”
Though Peter replied, “Oh, no, Lord, not you,” perhaps he was also saying, “Oh, no, Lord, not me!” It is easy for us to imagine that Peter knew that Jesus’ rebuke meant the same thing for himself and that he did not want to experience pain, unpleasantness, rejection, suffering, death.
We can imagine that it was natural for Peter to feel this way because we also tend to say “Oh, no, Lord, not me!” We do not want to experience pain, unpleasantness, rejection, suffering, death.
Wouldn’t we rather forget what Jesus had to go through? Wouldn’t we rather remember Christmas and Easter and forget Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Wouldn’t we rather focus only on the pleasant side of the story?
With God, though, it had to be the other way. For through his life, suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection, Jesus saves us by showing us the way to a life of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace – given with no conditions, no strings attached. God provides for us the chance to live a life with a full range of the possibilities potentially present in everyone.
Jesus saves us by his death, by overcoming once and for all the power of sin. Sin no longer can have a death grip over us because Christ makes it clear that God will forgive the sin that we confess and from which we repent in the sincere desire to renew our lives. And because Christ makes us realize that we are the most precious in creation – even worth dying for.
Christ’s death and resurrection give us the hope and purpose to go on in life despite the difficulties or tragedies that may befall us. Jesus laid this out to Peter in telling him, “Let me do what I must do.” He did this by calling all his followers together to tell them once more in the clearest possible terms what was at stake for the world and what he was calling them to do. To truly follow him, they had to follow him all the way to Jerusalem. They had to deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow him.
This is Christ’s call to us, as well. To deny ourselves is to put aside thoughts of our own needs, forgetting ourselves, so that we may remember and care for others. Taking up our crosses is to be ready to endure the worst that may happen to us for being true to God and the values of God.
The Good News of today’s gospel is that being a Christian is not always easy, but it is always life-giving and meaningful. The Good News of today’s gospel is that we have the resources to give up or take on whatever we must for the sake of God. We can make the necessary sacrifices – the offering and giving of ourselves so that God’s work may be done.
The Good News of today’s gospel is that we have the resources to take up our own crosses. We can give ourselves away, not hording our resources, knowing that God gave us life not to keep it but to spend for the sake of God and God’s children. We can take up our crosses to follow Jesus by giving our time, our talents, and our treasure for God’s uses.
The Good News of today’s gospel is being truly faithful to traveling our own hills of Calvary, following Jesus’ steps, doing our utmost to live in his example, striving everyday to do what he would do in our particular situation.
The Good News of today’s gospel is also what Jesus tells us about the result of all this. He asks us to consider the reality that “those who want to save their life will lose it.” What profit is there in having worldly riches but lose spiritual life? But he adds, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
It does not get much plainer than that.
We may sacrifice honor and honesty for profit and self. We may sacrifice principle and Christian values for popularity. We may sacrifice the values of God for the riches of the world. We may do all these things, but today Jesus makes us consider what such behavior will ultimately gain us. His assurance and his example make it clear that all it gains us in the end is a self-imposed exile from the greatest possible thing in life: God himself and God’s realm.
Unless. Unless we sacrifice ourselves to advance God’s purposes. Unless we seek to be one with Christ. Unless we first deny our selfishness and pick up the particular crosses God calls us to bear. Unless we follow Jesus on his journey, surrounded by God. Unless we join the faithful members of the body of Christ in heeding the Good News that is today’s gospel.
-- The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas. Email: Kesselus@juno.com.