Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is only the beginning
By: By Tim Irwin
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 31
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2,3-4,5-6,8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
The Gospel reading for this week, the Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, and last week illustrate the challenge of discipleship through a day in the life of Simon Peter. In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To express it in contemporary parlance, he accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Jesus acknowledges Peter’s profession revealing it to be divinely inspired: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
St. Peter nailed it. Jesus proclaims his salvation and promotes him to heir apparent. Peter is looking good, at least until we get to this week’s Gospel.
Itinerant preachers who could heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and feed folks by the thousands from the first century equivalent of a sack lunch were the rock stars of their day. Nothing happened conveniently in the biblical times for the average person. They lived their entire lives on the edge of economic peril, struggling to avoid starvation with little more than the clothes on their backs. So when a preacher could command the attention of thousands calling them away from the concerns of daily life, it’s a big deal.
It is in this context that Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly.
TAKING UP THE CROSS
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Of course, Simon Peter objects. He’s the heir apparent to the cause celebre of Galilee. He’s given up his fishing business, home and family. Just when it seems to be paying off, Jesus announces that this is a suicide mission. No wonder Peter seemed to be miffed.
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Ouch, that had to hurt. Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior did not mean that Simon Peter will receive all the wealth, power and honor that his ego craved. Jesus did not die and rise in order to offer him or us a wild card that we can use to advance our personal agendas.
Jesus did the will of His Father. That is what Jesus calls his disciples to embrace: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior does not end the struggle but begins it, as the life of St. Peter boldly illustrates. Peter has that one key attribute that carries him through his struggles. He is a man of resolute faith. He didn’t quit.
Clearly, he has no idea of why they’re going to the city renowned for killing the prophets, but he goes. Yes, Peter denies Jesus three times, but in the end his faith is so strong that he accepts a martyr’s death. His life illustrates the struggles we can anticipate as true followers of Christ.
St. Peter, pray for us. Like you, we need all the help we can get.
Tim Irwin teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.