Matthew 16:21-27
It’s all about the Cross and the Resurrection
by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with the permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

From that time on, 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 him 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 everyone according to his conduct."

People seem to like it when Our Lord says things like, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” or, “Judge not.”  It seems they are taken to mean Catholics have no business speaking out against sin and immorality because that is being to judgmental.

Christians are supposed to be “nice” because Christ was “nice.”  We are supposed to just accept and tolerate everything.  After all, Christ dined with tax collectors and sinners.

True, but the Gospels are quite clear:  Our Lord came to call sinners to repentance.  Funny how when we quote Christ we forget what Jesus says to His disciples in this week’s Gospel reading.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Our Lord says this just after announcing that in Jerusalem He will suffer, die and rise again.  He makes it clear that, even with the great miracles He has already wrought, the cross remains at the center of His salvific mission.  The hour of the cross is the hour for which He came into the world.  At the beginning of His public ministry, Satan tried steering Him away from the cross.  Now he is trying it again. 

Peter, who has just been called the rock upon which Christ would build His Church, reacts to Jesus’ announcement by saying he will not allow these terrible things to happen to his master.  On the face of it, it seems an appropriate thing to do.  Who wants to see a loved one suffer?  But Peter does not yet understand the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death.  Our Lord knows that Peter’s desire to save Him would be an obstacle to a divine plan, hence the rebuke: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

No sooner does Jesus make it clear that the cross is the center of His life than He says to His disciples that, if they wish to follow Him, they, too, must embrace the cross.  This is meant not just for those first apostles, many of whom would indeed die for their faith.  It is meant for any of us who would call ourselves His disciples.

What does taking up the cross mean?

On the one hand, it means that we must die to our sins.  We cannot make excuses for them.  We cannot get bent out of shape when someone tries to correct our sinful actions.  We cannot pretend that God does not care if I am living in sin.  The Scriptures are quite clear: God hates iniquity.  Our Lord makes it quite clear that we must put our attachment to – our love for – sin to death.

On the other hand, taking up the cross means also responding faithfully to the demands and duties of our vocations.  Our Lord was on a mission.  Satan was trying to turn Him away from it.  That dynamic is still at work today.  Husbands and wives take up a cross when they vow to be faithful to one another in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in prosperity or adversity.  Fulfilling those vows means giving up or putting on hold personal plains and dreams (i.e., careers or travel) because the family comes first.  It is a vocation that is meant to foster love, but Satan has modern means of trying to derail God’s plans for that holy state: pornography and the modern tendency to view children as burdens instead of gifts.

A priest takes up the cross when he takes the vow of celibacy and dedicates himself to serving the people of God.  He is called to be a man of prayer.  Satan sometimes seeks to derail that by planting those insidious thoughts that tell us we do not have time for prayer.  There is too much we have to do.  He can also derail a vocation by instilling in us a desire to be served rather than a desire to serve.  In other words, he would have us turn the priestly vocation completely on its head.

To take up the cross means that we must be ready to do God’s will and not our own.  We must be ready to root out sin because we know God loves each one of us.  If we say we love Him, too, then we cannot cling to those things that we know offend our Beloved.  We must be faithful in the vocations to which we have been called.  Both of these mean that the cross will not simply to be taken up once, but daily.

This is not to say that Christian life is simply about toil and drudgery.  Christ’s prediction of His passion was followed with the promise of glory.  He would die, but He would rise again.  If we are willing to die to sin and remain faithful to God’s will for us, then not only shall we die with Christ, but we shall also rise to new life with Him.  Taking up the cross means that I am willing to let God tear down whatever is keeping me from Him, whatever obstacles are keeping me from really knowing His love for me and me from loving Him completely, so that God can build me up into the person He wants me to be.

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