take up your cross
The Gospel story today is a turning point in Matthews story.
It begins with a reference to last week where Peter declared Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
It reads, from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes and be killed and then on the 3rd day raised.
I want to begin with last week, which is referred to here as that time. The time Peter declared Jesus ‘The Messiah, the Son of the living God’. This declaration has a bearing on how the story unfolds.
We need to remember, that in both the time of Jesus and perhaps even more-so at the time that Matthew wrote his Gospel, Israel was occupied by an enemy power- Rome. The Roman Emperors were worshipped as a god and as time went by this grew in intensity but it was already unfolding in the psyche of the Empire. The Roman Emperor was considered a ‘son of god’.
When Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the living God, this was a deeply subversive statement. The Messiah was the anticipated anointed ruler of God’s people-Israel, and calling Jesus the Son of the Living God, implies that all the other god’s are not living. When you consider it like this you can understand on one level why maybe Jesus didn’t want to advertise his identity in the public sphere.
Then we must compare Jesus the Son of God, with the Roman Emperor son of god.
The Emperors rule was oppressive use of power and wealth and brought with it greed and fear and death. Ordinary people were burdened with heavy taxes and they couldn’t move around or do the things which were important for them, they were an overpowered people living in a kind of captivity. The Emperor was also distant to the people- using his servants and soldiers to carry out his political agenda and tax collecting.
On the other hand, Jesus moved among the people loving and forgiving them. Teaching them, healing them, and restoring them to their families and friends. He was particularly caring for the outcast and alien. People like the poor, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors were welcomed into his surrogate family of disciples. Jesus did not use his power for his own gain, but only for the good of others and of course this unfolded right through to his death.
It is clear on some levels that the story will end in his death because his teachings and activities, even though they didn’t actively undermine Rome or the Jewish powers that be, they upheld values that were directly opposed and critiqued the values of these powerful leaders.
When Jesus predicted his death, and began to prepare his disciples, it was naturally not comfortable for them. How could this marvellous leader be killed? Jesus was speaking of walking into suffering pain and death and being raised again. Peter, and probably the others, could not hear the promise of resurrection at the end, or if they heard it, did not understand what it meant. All they heard was suffering and death. So, Peter, who is clearly functioning in his humanly limited manner, cannot tolerate this at all and in his mind, for the welfare of Jesus, tries to speak some sense!!!
“Please God, don’t let this happen to you Lord!”
When Peter identified Jesus, as the Messiah, he was speaking in the Spirit of God, now he is speaking in his human spirit. Unfortunately, in this place he is clearly out of step with God’s will. He isn’t literally Satan, but he is acting as Satan’s conduit. The name Satan means, ‘enemy, adversary or deceiver.’
So Peter, has gone from being a ‘rock’ on which the church would be built, to a stumbling block, which had the potential to trip up the Saviour of the world.
Jesus’ strong response ‘Get behind me Satan’ is reminding us and Peter, that he is a disciple and a follower of Jesus, his role was not to lead Jesus, or to try to rescue him, but to follow him. Peter had stepped out of line.
‘You, Peter, are setting your mind on human things, not divine.’
Jesus then turns to his disciples and says, ‘if any want to be my followers they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.’
So then, let me ask you a personal question, what do you want from life?
Family, comfort, satisfying work, wealth, health, grandchildren. Do you have dreams and expectations for your life? When you were 20 years old, what did you expect? How has that been?
For myself, I really had no idea.
I went nursing because I got in at Calvary Hospital in Adelaide through connections with family friends, but never really felt called to be a nurse.
I had boyfriends and lots of friends. I was exploring my faith, growing spiritually in leaps and bounds, and longing to love and serve God.
Just before I joined the Sisters I had a serious relationship and dreamt for a time of marriage and children, but God clearly wanted me to be in the Sisters. It took me 6 years to accept that calling, and then 11 years to settle into it and have been mostly happy over the past 21 years since I made my life profession.
There’s been suffering along the way as I have powerlessly watched the Community to which I have given my life as an expression of my service to God, gradually dying, and then having to live on my own despite a strong sense of call to community alongside of a further call to professional ministry.
The journey of following Jesus to the cross, is never as we would expect it to be.
It requires a deep desire to follow and serve Jesus and that means letting go of our will and desires to some extent. It requires us to be listening to God in and through prayer, Scripture and life. And being prepared to make hard choices in life if that is God’s call. This can be both in the small stuff, what am I going to do about this person who gets under my skin today; as well as the big stuff, what am I going to do about my life at this stage?
There is always an element of suffering, having to let go of our will and desire, so we are able to follow Jesus’ example of obedience to God’s will for us.
For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose it for my sake will find it.
Just imagine what would have happened to us, if Jesus had not died on the cross?
We wouldn’t be here. We would be stuck having to find our way in life without God’s forgiveness, without the promise of new life, without the vision of love for all people. Without Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Our world would be empty and fragile.
Saving our lives for our own sake brings death; losing our lives for God’s sake and the sake of others, brings life.
In terms of rewards; we can speak of short term pain for long term gain. We may lose what we want for ourselves, but in its place we gain joy, peace and eternal life with God and that is more than anything we could want or imagine.