Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
There is an intensity to the language of the readings this morning giving deeper expression to their meaning. I invite you to be alert to both, as well as to the various movements external and internal, the language and the intensity conveyed.
Jesus is leading them to Jerusalem – geography – he is leading them to accept that he is going to suffer and die – intellectual movement – and he is leading us to accept that our lives of faith are a participation in this saving movement flowing through the ages into our time – personal and historical movement – meaning with Jesus we will experience loss and we will experience gain – both personal and spiritual movements.
Peter is wrestling with Jesus’ words having only just acknowledged shortly before this passage his belief that Jesus is the Christ – intellectual, spiritual and personal movement – only to have Jesus tell him ‘get behind me Satan’ – physical, personal and spiritual movement. (And certainly mighty strong language.)
For Jeremiah there is a personal and spiritual movement in the recognition of what his relationship with God truly entails. God reproaches and derides him – something we may experience as well – bringing him to realize the deeper fire shut up in his bones. He can no longer hold in the profound effect of what his relationship with God is.
And in writing to the Romans, Paul chooses strong language saying: ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice’ – certainly indicating a movement from simple intellectual assent to true faith, calling for a willingness to endure the consequences of being known as a believer. We recognize intellectual and spiritual as well as personal movement in Paul’s admonition ‘do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God’.
When Saint Anslem recommends that we do our theology on our knees and integrate the intellectual (reason) and the affective (our feelings) with the ongoing spiritual development going on over the years in our lives, I see a connection to the movements expressed in the individual figures and the body of all believers that these readings are speaking to today. The church is at one and the same time in the midst of experiencing this movement in the collective body of the baptized, and in some way the church is calling for spiritual movement, trying to moderate it and trying to speak with a voice to encourage – as I believe I hear in Jesus’ words to Peter – not reproach but concern and the loving concern says ‘watch your step’ or you may get yourself in a situation as did Adam and Eve which makes you ask: “How did I wind up here? (outside the garden). This isn’t where I want to be.”
The opening of the gospel is interesting because Jesus is telling those involved – don’t tell anyone I’m the Messiah. We associate this with what is called the messianic secret in Mark – but here it elicits the observation that Jesus is not trying to draw attention to himself. He is faithfully fulfilling the work entrusted to him perhaps echoing what our refectory book is speaking about with regard to humility and each person’s finding our way through our life experiences to learn what God is trying to teach us.
Clearly Jesus is teaching that the movement to Jerusalem – to death, is essential to accomplish the work with which Jesus has been entrusted and this truth becomes the vehicle to help us grasp that we too must take up the cross – must lose our lives – if we wish to come to share that fullness of life Jesus comes to invite us to share. The shift from not telling anyone he is the Messiah at the opening of this passage to “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then will repay everyone for what has been done,” carries its own weight in terms of the lesson of this passage. We can’t leave what Matthew has written on the level of a history report. What Jesus taught in time and history becomes a lesson is in the here and now, in our present time – about what living our faith entails. And this learning as we advance in our relationship with Jesus is informed by the words of Jeremiah, the words of Paul, the words of Matthew and the lived experience of Peter because for us as for them, God engages us, not an idea of God but actually God! With Jeremiah we say, God has enticed us and we allow ourselves to be enticed. With Paul we take in the message – do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. With Matthew we ponder the meaning of Jesus going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise. And like Peter we express not the fear of our own suffering but out of love for the Lord our concern that he not have to suffer for our sake.
Perhaps these readings invite us to consider what is involved in moving from incipient faith to mature faith, and how with Christ out of love, we willingly embrace the sacrifice God calls us to make to grow into the likeness of him who willingly died for us.