22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A – August 30, 2020 

Today’s gospel is something of a sequel to the gospel proclaimed last Sunday.  Peter is again the central figure, but we see him in a very different vein.

Last week, Peter took the lead among Jesus closest followers in asserting that their teacher and friend manifested nothing less than the power and presence of God in his life and was indeed the long awaited Messiah and hope of Israel.  Today, however, as Jesus begins to reflect upon the nature of his ministry and the fact that he would suffer greatly to the point of losing his life, Peter missed the point and got it all wrong.

Peter, like most of us, couldn’t begin to conceive that someone that he loved and who represented such goodness in his life would have to suffer, much less carry a cross and be put to death.  Peter subscribed to the long held belief that the Messiah would come as a conquering hero.  For his part, Jesus saw his role as savior in a different way.  He was the suffering servant proclaimed by Isaiah, the prophet.   He was Jeremiah in our first reading, proclaiming God’s message of life and salvation, despite the pain and suffering that would ensue from its embrace.

For Jesus, there was an urgency in preaching God’s word – a word rooted in justice, mercy and truth – and a message that was not only to be affirmed in words but lived out with integrity in the lives of all who claimed for themselves a share in God’s life.  Yet, Jesus also understood that preaching the truth of God would challenge the righteous who failed to accept the price of following the great commandment to love God and neighbor.  He understood that it would be easier for them to dismiss the messenger and, in so doing, dismiss paying the cost of authentic discipleship and a life of meaning and peace rooted in God.  …  Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

A tough pill for Peter to swallow.  And for as much as we might be inclined to disagree, a tough pill for us to swallow as well.  We’re really not all that different than Peter.  We don’t like to talk about Jesus’ cross and its relationship to our call to discipleship because that just might imply that somewhere, there is a cross looking for our shoulder to rest upon.  And none of us want that to happen.

But neither did Jesus look forward to the cross.  Do you recall that the night before he died, Jesus prayed that the cross would pass him by?  …  Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.  …  In the supreme act of trust in the will of his Father in heaven, Jesus accepted the cross, embraced it with dignity, and the cross gave way to life – the great mystery of death giving way to life that rests at the heart of our beliefs as Christians.

Brothers and sisters, we’ll never have to look for crosses to fulfill Jesus’ invitation to his followers in today’s gospel.  They will surely find us.  Just look at life in our country and in our world during the last six months.  …  There are the obvious crosses that emerge in our lives due to sickness and death.  …  There are crosses that weigh heavily upon us as a result of loneliness, isolation and fear.  …  And some of the heaviest crosses that we carry are the result of our commitment to the truth of the gospel in the face of a world that continues to disregard the value of human life – from its first existence in the womb to its many shapes, colors and origins that deviate from some arbitrary norm.

The key to embracing the heart of today’s gospel message is found not so much in the number of crosses that we’ve had to carry but in what with the crosses that make their way into our lives.  …  Do we attempt to do whatever we can to climb out from underneath them?  Do we burden someone else by trying to make our cross their responsibility?  Do we compromise our values in order to lessen the sting of the cross’s pain?  …  Or do we accept them as a part of life?  Do we carry them with dignity, integrity and hope?  Do we see in the embrace of our crosses blest opportunities for us to deepen our relationship with God – to trust in his providential care – to reflect the life of Jesus in our own lives – and to walk in the footsteps of our Savior?

In a world that has been turned upside down and in so many ways has lost its values and direction, may we find meaning and hope in our embrace of the words of Jesus:  Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.