The Cross and Heaven: The Messiah’s Trademarks
User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 3
Sunday. Sept. 3, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27. In today’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the cross, not as an end, but as the way to glory, as a ladder to heaven. Let’s consider the Gospel in three stages.
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.” The Lord announces not only the cross but also the Resurrection. In effect, he announces the pattern of the Christian life, which we have come to call the Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The cross leads somewhere; it accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself; it has a purpose; it is part of a pattern. St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery in 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 Corinthians 4:10). This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, to this world, to our sins — but rising to new life, rising to the kingdom of God and becoming victorious over sin. The cross brings life; it is a prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly.
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.’” Peter, in precluding that Jesus suffer and die, also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus, for Christ cannot rise unless he dies. Peter, of course, is not thinking this all the way through — but neither do we when we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to hinder others improperly from accepting their crosses. The cross brings glory and growth; we run the risk of depriving ourselves and others of these if we rush to eliminate all the demands and difficulties of life.
Jesus goes on to teach further on the wisdom of and the need for 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.’” The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox: In order to find our life, we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain heaven, we must die to this world. This life is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers; it is a single note compared to the great symphony of heaven.