“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year
Last Sunday’s Gospel took us to Caesarea Phillipi where Jesus asked the disciples the question, “But who do people say that I am?” In response, Simon Peter made his confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Scripture scholars and theologians explain that Simon Peter’s “confession of faith” (Matthew 16:18) marks the turning point in Jesus’ public ministry. Everything that Jesus had said and done before this pivotal moment in his ministry was designed to bring the disciples to the realization that Jesus truly was the Messiah. All of Jesus’ teaching, preaching and miracle-working had the effect of bringing Simon Peter, and with him the other disciples, to believe that Jesus was, indeed, the long-waited Savior.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” This is the context in which Jesus tells Simon: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… [and] I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…”
Last Sunday’s Gospel ended with Jesus strictly ordering the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. That was because for the rest of his public ministry, Jesus would be teaching his disciples exactly what it meant for him to be the Christ, the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior. And Jesus will do this by inviting the disciples to follow him on his journey up to Jerusalem where he will suffer, die, and be raised on the third day.
Simon Peter clearly did not have this understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Thus Jesus begins today his journey up to Jerusalem with the disciples, and He invites all of us to join him and his disciples for the next three months of Sunday Gospel readings as we learn what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. As we do, we will learn more and more about what it means to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus faithfully through suffering and death to new and everlasting life.