(22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, Aug 31, 2014. / Jer 20:7-9, Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9, Rom 12:1-2, Matt 16:21-27)
In last Sunday’s exam of religion Peter’s answer of: “You are the Son of the Living God” got him an A+. This week he does not do so well and Jesus tells him, “Get behind me, Satan.” What went wrong with Peter can also happen to us. He didn’t listen to all that Jesus said. He just heard that Jesus would suffer and die. But Jesus also said that three days later he would rise again. How great is that!
Jesus speaks clearly, “If you want to come after me, forget yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.” You see everybody has a cross, a difficulty in life. But Jesus encourages us to pick it up. “Assume it! Take the challenge! I am with you!” If we avoid what we have to do we end up suffering much more! Often when we confront a problem with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength, we discover that it was not so big. We discover that God’s grace is bigger. “Don’t tell God you have a big problem but tell your problem you have a big God.” Anyway, it is not just to pick it up and suffer just for the sake of suffering but it is to allow that situation to mould us, to make us more holy, to follow Jesus. “Forget yourself, take up your cross and follow me,” says Jesus.
The idea of forgetting yourself is not an invite to amnesia or dementia. Or to enter into a nirvana unconnected to reality. It is just that sometime we have a memory that is selective. That remembers past hurts, failings, in fact many things that just weigh us down. In the film “The Mission,” Robert De Niro is carrying a heavy bag on a rope. The bag contains many objects from his past—a shield, a sword. He was so weighed down until the rope gets cut. We need that too. Often we are heavily burdened with fears and anxieties about what could happen. We need to forget all these things and try to fix our eyes on Jesus. St Paul said that he forgets what is behind him and runs towards the goal, Christ. Forget what weighs us down and remember the great love of Christ for us, remember that we are filled with the Holy Spirit who does not make us timid but courageous.
Sometimes we need to do a “brain scan,” to examine our hearts with sincerity and to discover what is weighing us down. We need a change of mind, a metanoia, and St Paul invites us to this in the second reading, to be more mindful of the good news in our lives. In the Eucharist we give thanks (Eucharist means thanksgiving in Greek) to remind us of the graces we have received. Often the crosses that come are invites to love a bit more. A man once was given a cross of 4 meters length. On the way it was a bit heavy so he cut off 30cm. Walking a bit more he was tired so he cut off another 30cm. (How big was the cross now?) He then arrived at a river but could not traverse it with his cross as the river was 3.5 metres wide. “Blessed be the Lord who prepares us for trials,” says one of the psalmists. Our crosses help us to grow and mature in love.
There will be challenges in life, or like the film, “There will be blood” but there will also be the resurrection. If we want the joy and freedom of the resurrection let us ask for the grace to assume our crosses. And to help each other to carry them, fixing our eyes on Jesus on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. And all this “if we want to.” Yes, Jesus we want to follow you . . .