Sunday reflection: Matthew 16:21–27

posted at 10:01 am on August 31, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 16:21–27:

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He 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.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “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. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

How many of us had fathers and mothers who traveled as part of their jobs when they were growing up? When we were really small, we might have clung to their leg as they packed, saying, “No, Daddy, you can’t go.” Maybe when we were a little older, we’d just complain that their travels interfered with our own plans. My father traveled quite a bit, working on the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, and I can recall a couple of usual reactions I had when he’d get ready to travel — being whiny, and then asking for a souvenir. I stopped being whiny when I got a little older, but I’m not sure I ever stopped asking for the souvenir.

We had this reaction because of our lack of understanding, and our own self-centeredness. We want to order the world to our own will, even when we only see a very, very small part of the entire picture. That is what we see in today’s Gospel as well. Peter, who just a few minutes earlier got the keys to the kingdom from Jesus, fails to see the larger picture of Jesus’ sacrifice even while it is being explained to him. Peter loves Jesus, and so he reacts as a small child would when told his parent was going to go away — he thinks it will be forever, and clings to him rather than see the journey made for the benefit of all.

Peter gets sharply rebuked from Jesus for this self-centeredness, in such harsh terms that it still stuns more than two thousand years later. Satan originally meant “opponent,” but it’s still a powerful insult to the man whom Jesus knew would lead His church after the Passion. The name sticks, though, because Satan rejected the will of the Lord and made himself an obstacle to His will for the world. The insult would have been so great that it’s a wonder it was ever recorded, especially by those who were in Jesus’ circle of disciples.

And yet, here we have it and many other examples of the disciples falling short. The mother of James and John demanded seats of power for their sons. Thomas doubted and demanded a test of the Lord before he would trust in the Resurrection. Peter’s loyalty failed him during the Passion, and this episode in particular coming so soon after Jesus named Peter the head of the church, and so on. The Gospels are filled with disciples’ doubts, questions, and failures to comprehend lessons until Jesus has to spell them out.

Why include it at all? We are all the same children as the disciples were prior to Pentecost, and all the same as Peter in this instance. All too often, we want the world to bend to our will, not the Lord’s. We want what we want for our own sake, rather than for the sake of others and the world now and to come. We certainly pray in the Lord’s prayer that “Thy will be done,” but let’s be honest. Most of us have thought at one time or another that we have a pretty good idea of what God should do, and wish He’d consult with us before having His will unfold.

Today’s first reading from Jeremiah demonstrates the futility of this thinking rather well. Jeremiah is a most reluctant prophet who complains about being “duped” by the Lord into this role. Like a child, he refuses to comply in a passage that almost sounds like a kid threatening to hold his breath until he gets his way: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.” How does that work out for Jeremiah? About as well as Peter telling Jesus that He can’t leave, or me telling my dad not to go on his business trip. Attempting to resist the will of God wearies Jeremiah, and the only way to alleviate it is to submit to His will and proclaim His word.

Jeremiah tells this story not to complain about God, nor did the disciples relate these unbecoming episodes as merely historians. They teach us an important lesson about faith, and about true caritas love. First, we all fall short of total self-sacrificing love without the Holy Spirit to guide us, but none of us should despair because the Holy Spirit is with us, even when we stumble. After all, the Holy Spirit spoke through Jeremiah even when Jeremiah resisted it. Jesus was with Peter and rebuked him in this episode, and even after Peter’s denial of Jesus the Holy Spirit lifted Peter up and worked through him to build the Christian church around the world. Our own will and our own selfish natures may serve as obstacles in the short run, but none of us can oppose the will of the Lord for long, even if we remain obstinate longer than Jeremiah.

The Gospels and the prophets call us out of ourselves and our own self-centeredness in sin. Peter could not recognize that Jesus’ plan all along was to offer Himself in sacrifice to expiate our own sins for all time, the greatest act of caritas imaginable. Instead, Peter wants to keep Him for as long as possible, either because Peter still has a more selfish view of what the Messiah should be or simply out of an understandable but immature devotion to Jesus. Either way, Peter is not thinking about the multitudes who will find salvation through the Passion, but of the here and now, a sharp contrast to the perfect caritas that Jesus has just finished describing.

These stories themselves are acts of caritas too, given to a fallen people burdened by sin and despair. Peter and the disciples could have easily focused their prophesying on Jesus alone, but they chose to tell these humiliating stories out of love for all of us, guided by the Holy Spirit in doing so. They did not set up the Christian church as a pantheon of perfect high priests in service to God, but of men and women who imperfectly groped their way to the light so that all of us might find it. If we can set aside our childish insistence on having our own immature wills being serviced and put ourselves in service to God’s will, we will all go on that journey together.

The front-page image is a sculpture at the Primacy of Peter Church in Galilee, depicting the “feed my sheep” passage. The picture is from my own collection.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Life seems to be a cruel struggle from beginning to end. Belief in the Christ does not change the struggle, it changes how we interpret it and confront it.

clandestine on August 31, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Please allow me to offer a bit of criticism. When you refer to scripture as “stories”, and this is most common with the gospels, you infer that these people and these places are not real, or that the events are not real but allegorical. These are not stories; they are events. Maybe as adults we can recognize that, but I assure you that children have only one understanding of what story is, and it is a key issue for many people as they mature to attempt to reconcile these stories to real-world application of sin and grace.

HiJack on August 31, 2014 at 10:28 AM

HiJack on August 31, 2014 at 10:28 AM

No, that’s not what I mean by “stories.” My father is an excellent story teller, for instance, and his stories are true.

Ed Morrissey on August 31, 2014 at 10:31 AM

You wrote: “Peter and the disciples could have easily focused their prophesying on Jesus alone, but they chose to tell these humiliating stories out of love for all of us, guided by the Holy Spirit in doing so.”

Excellent point.

Here’s my Passionist point of view: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God

Scriptures about suffering are my favorite.

gocatholic on August 31, 2014 at 10:41 AM

No, that’s not what I mean by “stories.” My father is an excellent story teller, for instance, and his stories are true.

Ed Morrissey on August 31, 2014 at 10:31 AM

You missed my point, Ed. I know what you meant by a story, but children have a different concept. I was amazed when I discovered as a young man that the places in the Bible were real places, because of this “story” concept drilled into me as a kid. And I’ve met many, many other people who had the same experience. From my own experience and the experiences of others I’ve learned never to tell Bible stories. But that’s just me. You do everyone here a great service by offering us a breather from the insanities of the world and this nation and sharing with us your inspiration of scripture. Something that will never see the light of day on a liberal site. We all appreciate your work.

HiJack on August 31, 2014 at 10:47 AM

I like the compassion shown Peter after Jesus’ resurrection–”go tell the disciples and Peter…” The Lord knew that Peter would need to know he was still to be included.

jackmac on August 31, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Thank you, Ed.

Mason on August 31, 2014 at 11:53 AM

HiJack on August 31, 2014 at 10:47 AM

He did not miss your point. What is Jeremiah telling? A story can be true, and a story involves the emotions of the people involved — their zeal. Indeed, “story” is cognate to “history”, and both denote a narrative of that which is true. We in modern times denigrate some narratives as “chilfen’s story” which implies “not true”, but as we discover over and over “out of the mouths of babes come wisdom”.

So that you may better understand from whence Ed (and myself) come, here is the relevant passage from Jeramiah Ed is discussing in relation to today’s Mass:

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

While your correction might have been done in the best of brotherly concern, it is incorrect. This is not entirely a narrative of true things, it is a narrative of true feelings.

unclesmrgol on August 31, 2014 at 12:37 PM

To put things into perspective, Jeremiah has a corollary in Matthew 10, concerning the persecution those who keep God’s Word will suffer at the hands of those others.

unclesmrgol on August 31, 2014 at 12:47 PM

By the way, thank you Ed.

unclesmrgol on August 31, 2014 at 12:48 PM

gocatholic on August 31, 2014 at 10:41 AM

You’d probably get more readers if you weren’t blocking Mozilla based browsers. I’m using Cyberfox, and it’s blocked. I do not supply any revenue stream to Mozilla Foundation. Just sayin’

unclesmrgol on August 31, 2014 at 12:52 PM

HiJack on August 31, 2014 at 10:28 AM

No, that’s not what I mean by “stories.” My father is an excellent story teller, for instance, and his stories are true.

Ed Morrissey on August 31, 2014 at 10:31 AM

When one reads/hears Bible commentary and the words “story” and “narrative” are used and you are not familiar with the commenter/exegete/preacher, it is prudent to be on guard because there is a hermeneutic that uses such terms to indicate that the passage is not to be taken as literal truth, that it should be understood as myth.

However, we know Ed and his understanding that the Bible is the literal word of God, so we need not be worried that he sees anything in the bible as myth.

But, HiJack, if you will “Please allow me to offer a bit of criticism,” when someone is stating information he/she does not “infer.” The source does not infer. The source may imply. It is the hearer/reader who infers.

(This is not to say that the speaker/writer does not infer things about his/her audience, subject, and/or purpose–the three main things one keeps in mind when writing/speaking. But those things are sources about which something may be inferred.)

davidk on August 31, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Isaiah 51:6
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

This is all very temporary, keep your eyes on the long game. Meanwhile, don’t give the devil his due, he is deserving of none because it is all in God’s hands.

Diluculo on August 31, 2014 at 1:28 PM

davidk on August 31, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Agreed. But there are enough of us here to set them straight should they venture an opinion that “story” implies “fairy tale”.

unclesmrgol on August 31, 2014 at 1:52 PM

It is all about the Cross. We are to carry the burden of others cross. Christ carried all of our burdens on that cross and if we are to be faithful disciples, so are we.

crosshugger on August 31, 2014 at 2:51 PM

I love these Reflections. Thank you, Ed. It is always such a breath of fresh air, a reprieve, a moment of peace in our week. Whatever the lesson, it always gives perspective.

mountainaires on August 31, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Loved this reflection, Ed. Thanks.

We certainly pray in the Lord’s prayer that “Thy will be done,” but let’s be honest. Most of us have thought at one time or another that we have a pretty good idea of what God should do, and wish He’d consult with us before having His will unfold.

Lol. Isn’t that the truth?! I have to always remind myself “THY Will be done” and pray if it be His Holy Will.

The insult would have been so great that it’s a wonder it was ever recorded, especially by those who were in Jesus’ circle of disciples. . . . .

These stories themselves are acts of caritas too, given to a fallen people burdened by sin and despair. Peter and the disciples could have easily focused their prophesying on Jesus alone, but they chose to tell these humiliating stories out of love for all of us, guided by the Holy Spirit in doing so

I never thought of that point. They could easily have left alot out. So true. And “out of love for us.” Very touching to think of that.

Elisa on August 31, 2014 at 7:44 PM

In my own personal experience, I have found that it is terribly difficult spreading God’s Will. I know I sin everyday. I have always been partial to the Gospel of Mark precisely because the Disciples are so human. I liken life to a football game, every play someone screws up but when you’ve developed a winning culture you can grind out a bigger victory in spite of yourself. That culture in a religious sense is Christianity. If you follow it, you’ll fail but you won’t be defined by your failures.

I think that it is human institutions that make following God’s Will hardest of all. Too often, the cross we bear isn’t because of something we’ve done wrong but because we have done something right. The consequences can be so severe that it is easier to look the other way. I know I have certainly paid a price for doing the right thing. It destroyed my life.

http://restrainingorderabuse.com/2014/08/25/the-ppo-destroyed-my-career-grants-story-of-restraining-order-abuse/

gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 11:48 AM

TO: gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 11:48 AM

The story of “Grant” linked in the comment, is certainly a sad one. However, I practice this area of law in California and I have overturned several “end runs” like this in court.

In life, we use EMT people to help us with obvious treats to our health or physical well being for ourselves or family members. Grant notes this in his story. However, when it comes to legal issues, people often either unknowningly, unwittingly or negligently to their detriment, fail to seek out out legal advice. Family problems of this type seem to the untrained person to be one that is easily solved, a mere misunderstand that the court will fix. All true, until the party fails for whatever reason to take the matter seriously and appear in court regardless of the hardship or circumstances of their life unfolding at the time. But even so, that too can often be repaired in court with competent legal counsel at a future hearing. Unfortunately, fixing such a problem after a court’s ruling is many times more expensive than directly confronting the allegations promptly at the beginning of such litigation.
Having said all that, my point is that Grant’s story really has nothing to do with the spreading of the will of the Father. Like Peter, Grant tries to bend the will of the Court system to that of his own understanding of the dispute. Sure Grant had a lot on his plate at the time of the first restraining order. Hiring an attorney to appear for him at the first opportunity could have given him time to prepare a simple defense avoiding a long term or permanent restraining order. Yet like the will of the Father, as Peter later learns from the Passion, we must submit rather than try to change or bend the “authority will” that confronts us to suit our needs.
I must point out that I’m not judging Grant. I do suggest he seek out legal counsel in his State to clearly ascertain if their are still any legal remedies of which he might avail himself.

Michael Harlin on September 1, 2014 at 1:28 PM

It destroyed my life.

gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Nigeria: You Can’t Kill My Soul

John Yakubu had nothing. When he and his family were forced to flee Attagara, a village in northeastern Nigeria, after a Boko Haram attack, they were just barely surviving in a refugee camp. Read More

India: Free of Christians

Recent remarks by an RSS leader reveal the true motives of the Hindu nationalist movement — a movement described as the ideological mentor of India’s ruling BJP party — and point to a worrying future for India’s Christians. Read More

Iran: Execution Delayed

A judge rescheduled the Aug. 12 sentencing date for a Christian man imprisoned outside Tehran, Iran. “Amir” was set to be executed after being imprisoned two years ago after being caught transporting a truckload of Bibles. Read More

http://www.persecution.com/

davidk on September 1, 2014 at 1:38 PM

Hiring an attorney to appear for him at the first opportunity could have given him time to prepare a simple defense avoiding a long term or permanent restraining order. Yet like the will of the Father, as Peter later learns from the Passion, we must submit rather than try to change or bend the “authority will” that confronts us to suit our needs.

What does this have to do with a court severely punishing a citizen, sight unseen in a way that flaunts Michigan law (see the standard for ex-parte orders), for encouraging someone who was a friend to reach the goals she set for herself in life? In other words, I admitted to stumbling every day and yet, because of Christ, I have found a way to overcome my failings as best as possible to put together a record I am proud of. When my friend had stopped being able to do the same I pointed out how many people she could help as a doctor and the great works she was capable of. My obvious point was that standing up for Gospel principles (or doing my best to) got me in real, permanent trouble. As long as that is the case, it become easier to look the other way when God calls on us to spread his Will.

gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 2:55 PM

gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 2:55 PM

What does this have to do with a court severely punishing a citizen, sight unseen in a way that flaunts Michigan law (see the standard for ex-parte orders), for encouraging someone who was a friend to reach the goals she set for herself in life?

Any court will presume from your absence that either: (1) you don’t care what ruling the court makes or (2) the allegations are true. Your freedom of choice, not God’s, allowed this outcome.

Michael Harlin on September 1, 2014 at 3:14 PM

Huh? The hearing occurred without me and they never served me. I was never absent from anything. The best I could hope for would me to make the order inactive but that doesn’t cause it to cease being a public document that is readily accessible and show up on background checks.

gdossetto on September 1, 2014 at 9:46 PM


……………………………………………………….

GREATER is the VALUE of ETERNAL LIFE

……………………………………………………….
AMERICAN INSPIRATION
________________________________________________________________

-

HAPPY LABOR DAY
……………………………………………………….

http://www.TheCHEW.com

The CHEW Recipe Collections

http://ABC.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes

……………………………………………………….

http://ABC.go.com/shows/the-chew

________________________________________________________________

Global HAWK on September 1, 2014 at 11:28 PM

I can recall a couple of usual reactions I had when he’d get ready to travel — being whiny, and then asking for a souvenir. I stopped being whiny when I got a little older, but I’m not sure I ever stopped asking for the souvenir.

That brought back some good memories when I used to travel. Ed, thanks so much for this “real life” weekly feature.

HonestLib on September 2, 2014 at 10:09 AM

davidk on September 1, 2014 at 1:38 PM

They fear the Word.

unclesmrgol on September 3, 2014 at 1:44 AM