Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Cost of Being a Christian

In the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Simon Peter made his confession of faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus remarked that Peter did not figure out on his own who Jesus is, and neither did any other person tell him. Rather, Peter received the gift of faith from God the Father. And so do we. It is true that others may tell us who Jesus is, but faith is purely a gift.
Jesus gave Simon a new name- Peter- the Rock, and proceeded to give him the keys of the kingdom. In other words, Jesus made Simon Peter the head of the Apostles and gave him authority over the Church which Jesus would establish on the foundation of the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

Jesus gave Peter the authority in a manner which sounded extreme- whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Sounds like Peter can do whatever he wants. Right? But hold on- in today’s Gospel Jesus tells Peter to get behind me Satan. (We might have thought that Jesus implying the Canaanite woman was a dog was extreme. But now He calls His number one apostle Satan.) The word Satan is not only the name of the Devil, but literally means the Adversary in that the Devil is the Adversary against us all. Clearly then, Saint Peter’s authority is not without bounds. Rather there is some kind of limit. The limit is that Peter, and all those following after him, have to be in accord with God.

Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.When Peter was docile to the Holy Spirit and received the gift of faith, he was okay. But once he began thinking as a human being with regard to Jesus, he became an obstacle to the Mission of our Redeemer, which was to suffer and die.

It seems a bit odd that Jesus ordered His disciples not to tell anyone He was the Christ, since now we are in fact obligated to tell. But almost everyone of Jesus’ day misunderstood what the Messiah /or Christ was going to do. The common opinion was that the Christ would re-establish Israel as a political superpower and that His ministry would be filled with success after success.
Jesus rejected this kind of thinking so strenuously that He regarded it as an obstacle. So after acknowledging the the gift that Peter had received and conferring upon him a real share in God’s authority, Jesus also began to teach them about His upcoming passion and death, so that they could understand what it was going to mean to be the Christ. You know, today there are many people who go about thinking incorrect things about Jesus. A few years ago there was that book which speculated that Jesus was married. Another book, the fake Gospel of Judas (which was never written by Judas), claimed that Jesus committed suicide. Others have claimed that Jesus was a political revolutionary, others have said He was a social engineer. There are innumerable false opinions floating around. But Jesus is not interested in our false opinions, nor does He leave us to wallow in our ignorance. Certainly if we were following someone because they were a powerful preacher and miracle worker, and we expected them to be a victorious politician, and then they began to talk about how it was necessary for them to be killed. We might have felt uncomfortable also. But Jesus is just telling us how it is. He is not the Messiah by reason of great worldly success. He is the Messiah who suffered and died, but who rose again to new life.
Still, we must not roll our eyes at Peter because he rebuked Jesus. Many times we have done the same thing, getting angry at God because something did not turn out according to our wishes. Besides, Simon Peter might have been afraid. If all those bad things would happen to Jesus, what was going to happen to them? If there is any doubt, Jesus clears that up. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. The cross is not just for Jesus. Each and every one of us is called, is required to take up our cross daily. Carrying our cross is not optional, neither is it something that we can do when we have exhausted all means of being comfortable or in control.

Taking up our cross is a practical application of our Christian faith. And it is something we can practice daily. Each person’s cross can be different, but here are a few examples: using kind words when someone else is criticizing or insulting us; praying for someone who has really hurt us; enduring being taken for granted; being patient with others; accepting our limitations while trying to do our best; letting go of bitterness when we do not get our way; doing things for others without making deals for our benefit; offering up our physical pains for the conversion of those who do not have the gift of faith; holding our tongue when we want to criticize; speaking up for the truth even if we stand alone;— there are dozens of ways to shoulder our share of the burden.
It has been common for people to give as a reason for abandoning their responsibilities that they are in the process of "finding themselves." Jesus tells us exactly how to find ourselves: by dying for His sake. Bearing our daily cross is what it costs to be a disciple of Jesus and essential if we wish to enter into glory. And to refuse the cross is to become an obstacle to the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives. But by accepting the cross we share in the power and wisdom of God.

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