August 31 2008
ORDINARY 22 (A)
Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Mt. 16: 25
Pretty strong stuff, that! We’ve heard it so often I fear we’ve glossed over its significance. Too often, Peter speaks for us when he utters the sentiments of conventional religiosity. He, like us, wants God to forbid suffering & death or at least alleviate it. The one who was supposed to be the foundation for the Church is suddenly sounding like a stumbling block, an obstacle. We all have to learn, usually the hard way, to replace this conventional wisdom with a decidedly alternate way of thinking.
It is a sad but predictable fact that those who stand up get knocked down. Whistle blowers are a prime example. Criticism & cover-up go together, & part of the cover-up is to eliminate the criticism. Yes, nowadays we hear rhetoric that criticism is welcomed, but the reality is that anyone who questions the status quo will be treated harshly by those benefiting from the status quo.
Jesus was a fierce critic, highlighting the hypocrisy of the religious leadership of his day. They were taken up with their own importance, loving the trappings of their position rather than its substance. Image was everything (sound familiar?)! So our Lord’s prediction of suffering & death was not a supernatural vision of the future. It was rooted in the amply documented tendency of those in power to eliminate those who question it.
As His disciples, if we tell the emperor that he has no clothes, we must be prepared to accept the consequences. If we critique contemporary society & its values in the light of the Gospel, we must not expect kudos. Moreover, it is not enough to grudgingly endure this situation. Jesus is telling us we must lean into it by taking up our cross, not having it put on us. It is hard for us to realize that this is the path of transformation for others & the path of resurrection for ourselves.
Once a man embarked on a walking trip to the town of Sunnyville . Arriving at a fork in the road, he was an annoyed to discover a sign post with one arrow marked “ Manor Town ” pointing to a wide, smoothly paved road & another arrow marked “Sunnyville” pointing to a narrow, rocky, unpaved trail. Suddenly he had a bright idea. He reversed the signs & proceeded merrily along the paved road. On & on he walked, but he never reached Sunnyville!
When our Lord says, “Follow me,” he points us in the direction of the rocky trail. It is counterintuitive. We are so terrified that we immediately plea for a reprieve. Like Peter, He takes us aside to explain how this is necessary, how this is a “must.” Given who God is & who we are, it cannot be any other way. Yet the terror is only the devil’s smokescreen, for this is the path to finding the deeper life that sustains us.
Every time “the Cross” happens, & it happens daily, a double revelation unfolds. Divine love in some finite human person shines forth & human resistance in some hardened person is seen for what it is. “The Cross” is the symbol for the standoff between divine love & human recalcitrance. If we refuse it for fear of losing our surface life, we may gain a significant footing in the world, but we will have lost our soul in the process. AMEN!