Just a few words on today’s gospel. We see Jesus alone with his disciples. Jesus was off by himself praying. The disciples were close by. Some time earlier Jesus sent the disciples out on their own to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. After a while they came back with all kinds of success stories of the wonderful thing they’d done.
Jesus was looking for feedback. They say that when Napoleon was on his many campaigns he would often ask, “what is Paris saying?” In others words, ‘what’s my press like back home?’ Jesus’ question was, ‘what are the people saying?’ Who do they say I am? Some people imagined that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. This is what King Herod thought when he heard about Jesus. Others said Jesus was Elijah or one of the ancient prophets. Jesus hones his question down to ‘who do you say I am?’ Who am I to you? Peter answers for all when he says,’ The Messiah, the Anointed of God.’ Peter had his idea of what those words meant and Jesus had his.
He shocked Peter and the others when he shared a secret with them. ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.’ This was too much. In Matthew’s gospel we have Peter saying ‘God forbid, this must never happen to you.’ Peter was only giving voice to the confusion they all felt hearing these words. They were convinced they were following a winner not a loser.
Jesus adds to their confusion and bewilderment by telling them following him would not be a walk in the park. Even today we find his words difficult; “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who would want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” And here’s the real clincher: “what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?” We can wonder if some of those present considered packing their bags and leaving Jesus as they did when Jesus told the people, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you cannot have life in you.” The response of some on that occasion was to say, “this is a hard saying and who can take it? And many of his disciples walked with him no more.”
Maybe we can ask ourselves, ‘am I still walking with Jesus?’ Am I still trying to be the kind of person he was, a person willing to give my life for others?
Carrying our daily crosses is far more than dealing with arthritis, an unhappy marriage, a son or daughter on drugs, depression, unemployment, loneliness or whatever. It means being willing to be a loser in the eyes of others as was Christ. It means holding on to our faith in God and in God’s Messiah while being surrounded by cynicism and ridicule concerning God and the things of God. It means staying in the family of the church while being embarrassed by the scandal some priests and bishops have brought on us. It means being open to the value of the dignity of life and of every person regardless of faith, culture or life style in the face of the culture of death and the narrowness of prejudice and bigotry. It means speaking out for social justice and fairness in the face of the exploitation of powerless people.
The disciples found it hard to hear Jesus’ description of what he was all about; that he was to undergo great suffering, be rejected, and die a shameful death and that those who faithfully followed him could expect the same. We too find his words hard to hear and follow.
In the strength of the bread of life that will nourish us at the Mass may we be open and strong enough to try and follow in his footsteps and come to grow in his life and love.