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Hard Words about Discipleship

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

The Gospel for this Sunday picks up exactly where we left off last Sunday – with the exception of a single word. I am not sure why that word was left out, but it does show that Jesus and the Twelve are still at Caesarea Philippi. The Greek text reads: Then Jesus began to show his disciples. . . (Matthew 16:21) In other words, having just assured them that the Church would be built upon a sure foundation and that the gates of the nether world would not prevail against it, Jesus goes on to say that being a disciple involves self-denial and carrying a cross.

In the midst of this exchange, Jesus refers to Peter as a "satan." Last week we heard Jesus say that God had revealed the truth about Jesus to Peter. Just a few verses later Jesus is not so complimentary. The word "satan" is familiar to us as a name we call the fallen angel, Lucifer. It has become synonymous with the word "devil." However, the original meaning of the word and the way in which Jesus uses it here is best translated as "obstacle." A satan is an obstacle in the road. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will obey God's will that he give up his life to save us from our sins. Peter's insistence that God will never let this happen acts as an obstacle to the fulfillment of God's will. Jesus wishes that obstacle to be behind him; in other words, he wishes that it no longer be in his way.

The other two readings for this Sunday illustrate exactly what Jesus is driving at; namely, being a prophet or a disciple of Jesus entails a life of suffering. Jeremiah, an Old Testament character who, like all the prophets, carries the Word of God with him at all times, has come to realize that fact. He may have thought that being a prophet would have been something of a privilege, a thought that seduced him into accepting that role. He has now found out that being a prophet has made him an object of derision. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, writes that while the people of God were used to the sacrifices of dead animals as offerings to God, those who follow Jesus will be asked to sacrifice themselves, living sacrifices, as he calls them.

The fact of the matter is that suffering or carrying a cross is an integral part of being a bearer of God's word, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus. We are called upon to embrace the cross.

P.S. I ask you all to remember my mother in your prayers. She was hospitalized on Thursday and faces the prospect of surgery on Tuesday of this coming week. Pray that God give her the strengthen to endure the surgery and that she might recover from its effects.

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