Every Round Goes Higher, Higher. A Meditation on the Gospel for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

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.”

14 Replies to “Every Round Goes Higher, Higher. A Meditation on the Gospel for the 22nd Sunday of the Year”

  1. In the past, I’ve always wondered about this quote from Jesus, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” For us, who have “read the end of the book” and know what is going to happen, the reference to “the cross” may seem natural. But for the Apostles, who haven’t been through it yet, I’ve always thought that a specific reference to “the cross” would be nonsensical and totally mystify them. As such, although I am loath to believe that the text has been tinkered with and words put in Jesus’ mouth that He did not say, I’ve wondered whether this is actually a post-Resurrection quote that was placed prior to the Crucifixion for literary purposes.

    But reading it again, I am struck by — and see for the first time — the connection to the allusion a couple of paragraphs earlier to having to suffer and be killed. The reference to “the cross” follows from that. So, a couple of questions arise —
    Is it possible that, in that earlier statement, although it is not part of the quote, Jesus did in fact made a specific reference to crucifixion, such that the later reference to “the cross” would have made sense? or
    Is it possible that Jesus did not specifically refer to “the cross” in the later statement and this is simply a matter of loose translation? What is the precise word used in the original Greek (I assume it was Greek)?

    Either way, from a storytelling perspective, something is missing here. Were the issue simple stoning, or whatever forms of execution there were under the Law, it might go unremarked. But one would expect the Apostles to suddenly become quite agitated and alarmed at a Roman form of execuction — “Hold on a minute. Cross?? Crucifixion?? Roman crucifixion?? Huh?? Lord — what are you talking about?? Crucifixion??” But we don’t see that here.

    1. There were a number of instances where Jesus’ words confused and mystified His listeners. Notice that He does not further explain. He says something to the effect of, “Let he who has ears, hear.” Neither did He explain what He meant when He said, (paraphrasing, of course) “In order to have life eternal, you must eat My Flesh and drink My Blood.” Then, the writer goes on to say that His listeners turned and left Him because they could not understand His words. He does not call them back to correct or explain Himself. To he who has ears, hear.

      Also, when reading Scripture, one must always remember that whatever the words of the Sacred writer, they were always guided by the Holy Spirit for it was God Himself writing. There is nothing in Scripture that does not have meaning. We may not always comprehend the meaning, but “…for those who have ears, hear.” Many of us do not. So, we must take these words as they are in our heart on faith.

      God bless you.

    2. Yes, I suppose it is good to recall that that the gospels are not complete accounts and further that the time line used by the evangelists is flexible. They often reworked the order of things because they were assembling a theological vision not simply a historical chronicle. Thus, the scriptures record what Jesus really said and did but in a summary fashion and in an interpreted manner by the hindsight and anointing of the Holy Spirit the Evangelists later received.

      That said we ought not overlook the likely fact as well that the Jewish people must certainly have had a euphemistic notion about the cross symbolizing suffering in general. We know that the Romans did for our word “excruciating” comes from them. When they saw painful suffering, even of a psychological nature the Romans would say in Latin “ex cruce!” (from the cross!) and this has come to us in the form of the word “excruciating.” We do not mean a literal cross but a figurative one. So too, likely in Jesus’ time, even among the Jews, it would seem.

      1. A then-Aramaic word for “excruciating.” (Assuming that Jesus actually spoke Aramaic to the Apostles and Matthew (with the HS) translated that into Greek for the Gospel, which Jerome translated to Latin and we later translated to English.) Hmm. That could explain it.

  2. Epistle 241
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope preached Gospel according to Matthew 16:21-27.
    Gist of the Gospel is that Jesus predicts his death.
    Secondly, now permit me to say some my thoughts to relate to the Gospel hereafter:
    In early 2004, when I followed Lord Jesus, that is, when I attended at Sunday’s Holy Masses and learning Catholic Theology in Mai Khoi Monastery, I predicted some happenings for me.
    First, Muslims (Followers of Islam) will not say anything because according to Muslims, Jesus is 24th prophet, and Muhammad is 25th prophet of theirs. Therefore, I follow Jesus or Muhammad is the same.
    You can read prophets of Islam here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophets_of_Islam
    Second, Buddhists (Followers of Buddha) will say that I am their close friend as long as I still respect Buddha.
    Third, Vietnamese Communists will respect me because I am a pro-Catholic Communist and they will promote me as a senior leader.
    However, an unexpected thing happened to me. That is that my Party deleted my name from its party-list on April 2010.
    Until now, I still think that my Party has had a leftist deviation because it is not a renovation party.
    As for me, I have thought that a party member of political party can follow any religion as long as he/she still obey integrated policies of the party.
    For example, Head of Committee for Religious Affairs of Vietnamese government today is Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh. Mr. Binh now is a Member of the Central Committee of Vietnamese Communist Party, and a pro-Theravada Buddhism Communist of Tra Vinh province in South Vietnam.
    But if now my Party convinces me to rejoin it, then I will answer that it is no, no, no, and never./.

  3. Thanks Msgr. Pope. The significance of the Cross has never been far from my consciousness lately. Its a hard teaching for me because, like many, I’m afraid of suffering and death. I can understand how most of the Apostles did not stand by Jesus during his Passion, even after he tried to prepare them (on three different ocassions) for what would happen. They obviously understood that that which happens to the master will also happen to the servant. With God’s grace, I might some day make a good death.

  4. I often struggle with suffering, but perhaps not in the usual way–my life, generally speaking, is pretty placid. I don’t go to bed hungry, no one is threatening my life, I have a job, and at least at present, my family are well and happy (Thank you, Jesus!). In short, not much suffering. If one really believes that suffering is the way to resurrection, then it’s possible to contract a good case of “survivor’s guilt” when things are going TOO well. I’m not certain about all this, but here’s where I’ve sorted it for the present: If I am in fact, part of the Body of Christ, then the sufferings of others are mine as well; part of my daily task is to accept my share in their sufferings, directly by works of mercy or indirectly by prayer. But perhaps more than that, the cross destined for me is no more under my control than my talents and vocation are: God has chosen it for me, and will present it to me in His own good time. Christ knew the cross was coming and came into the world to embrace it–but not all of his life was the event of the Crucifixion and while He did not turn from it, It doesn’t seem that He went looking for it before the time was right, either; Scripture tells of times when He eluded crowds out to kill HIm. Some of life was joyful, some sorrowful, but all of it was directed at the moment when the Cross would be laid across His shoulders, and the time beyond that when He would rise. So it is, I think, with us. The times when the cross seems far away are perhaps the times we are meant to be growing toward it so that when we receive it, we can carry it. And those little acts of self-denial, prayer, penance, works of mercy, all help us be ready.

  5. I must say without any doubts, that I have been blessed by opening up this site and reading the meditations, and more so the reply’s. Thank you Jesus for guiding me to the right places.

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