In today’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the Cross, not as an end in itself, but as the way to glory. Lets consider the Gospel in three stages.
I. The Pattern that is Announced – The text says, 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.
Note here that the Lord does not only announce the cross, he also announces the resurrection. In effect he announces the pattern of the Christian life which we have come to call the “Paschal Mystery.”
The expression, “Paschal Mystery” refers to the suffering, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The word “Paschal” is related to the Hebrew for Passover. Just as the shed blood of a lamb saved the people from the angel of death and signaled their deliverance, so does Jesus’ death, his Blood, save us from death and deliver us from slavery to sin.
So he is announcing a pattern: the Cross leads somewhere, accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself, it is for a purpose, it is part of a pattern.
St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery this way: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4:10). It is like an upward spiral where the cross brings blessings we enjoy. But we often circle back to the crosses God permits, and there come even greater blessings and higher capacities. Cross, growth, cross, growth, and so the pattern continues, till we reach the end, dying with Christ so as to live with him.
This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, dying to this world, dying to our sins, but rising to new life, rising to the Kingdom of God, becoming victorious over sin. The cross brings life, it is prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly. And old spiritual says of this repeated pattern that “every round goes higher, higher.”
Do you see the pattern Jesus announces? The Lord does not announce the cross to burden us, neither does the Church. No, the cross is part of a pattern that, if accepted with faith, brings blessing, new life, and greater strength.
II. The Prevention that is Attempted – The text says, 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.”
Notice the exact wording of Peter’s words: “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And we ought to ask, “What such thing?” For in precluding that Jesus suffer and die, he also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus. For Christ cannot rise, unless he dies.
Peter of course is not thinking all this through, he is not connecting the dots. But neither do we as we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to improperly hinder others from accepting the cross. For the cross brings glory and growth and we run the danger of depriving others of these if we rush to eliminate all the crosses, demands and difficulties of life. Perhaps we do this by enabling behaviors, perhaps we do it by spoiling children.
We also hinder our own growth by refusing to accept the crosses of self-discipline, hard work, obedience, resisting temptation, accepting suffering, consequences and limits. In rejecting the cross we also reject its fruits.
All this explains Jesus severe reaction to Peter. He goes so far as to call Peter “Satan” for it pertains to Satan to pretend to befriend us in protesting our crosses, but it is really our blessings he wants to thwart. Peter may not know what he is doing, but Satan does, and seeks to become an obstacle to Jesus’ work.
Jesus’ severe reaction is rooted in protecting our blessings.
III. The Prescription that is Awarding – Jesus goes on to teach further on the need for and wisdom of the Cross. The text says, 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.”
The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox that in order to find our life, we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain heaven we must die to this world. And that dying is a process more than just an event at the end of our physical life here. Though we cling to life in this world, it is really not life at all. It is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers. It is a mere note compared to the great symphony God directs.
Jesus instructs us to be willing to exchange this tiny and dying life for that which is true life. Whatever tiny blessing comes from clinging to this life and world the Lord says it is no profit at all. If you choose life in this world rather than the true life God offers, you’re nothing but a big loser.
Of course what the world’s cheap trinkets offer is immediate gratification and evasion of the Cross. We may feel relief for a moment, but our growth is stunted and the cheap little trinkets slip through our fingers. We gain the world (cheap little trinket that it is) but lose our souls. Total loss. To quote a modern expression: “FAIL!”
Jesus final world reminds us that the choice is ours, however. For the day will come when he will ratify our choice. Either we accept true life and win, or we choose the passing, dying life this world has and we lose. The choice is ours.
This songs speaks of life as a kind of spiral climb between cross and glory. The text says, “Every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross.”