Today’s readings: Jer. 20, 7-9; Rom. 12, 1-2; Matt. 16, 21-27.
Modern day humanism frequently comes out as having replaced one kind of faith (in God) with another (in science, socialism, humanity). Today’s readings are rich for the impact they can have on our perception of life both on the individual level as on the social.
There are things which Jesus, founder of Christianity, made clear from the very beginning but which we continue to resist in the way we judge reality. Among these surely is that he never meant to fossilise his thinking into an ideology, into a teaching that is merely to be observed and put into practice.
Throughout history, this is where we failed our calling: very often we sought to translate the Gospel into laws, into very reasonable and clear-cut answers and equations that would solve life’s riddles and those of society. But the strength of the Gospel lies elsewhere.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is not just predicting his destiny but projecting the way things were to work out for those choosing to believe in him. The gospel of Jesus was never meant to inspire a political ideology or to determine the way society should be constructed.
Jeremiah, in his own project for the politics of his time, succumbs to a power for him too much to bear. “Each time I speak the Word, I have to howl,” he says. And he knew exactly what it meant to be cornered for the sake of the Word.
In the gospel, Peter is the rock turned Satan, first confessing the true Lord and now becoming an obstacle in his path. Even Paul, in a well-known and classic formula, itself a turning-point in the letter to the Romans, speaks of a new mind necessary to discover in truth what it is that God wants.
Jesus speaks of the necessary contradiction between his mindset and the world’s. But our tragedy is that we often seek to smooth out that contradiction or even the divide between Ceasar and God, between society and our faith communities, between the State and the Church.
Jeremiah’s struggle with the politics of his day taught him the lesson that the Church is in duty bound to be a prophetic and critical voice in and for society, but never imposing through law how things should be. As with Jeremiah, we had to learn this same lesson the hard way. And many are still resistant.
Certain things have to happen. They are unavoidable. At times, when we look at things as they are, we think in terms of tragedy when actually they are blessings, because we are more radically faced with our calling, individually and as Church.
Our mindset is no longer mainstream. We are called to stand up and be counted for who we are, not for the culture we once belonged to, that same culture which has shaped until recently the western mind.
At times, Christians were persecuted for being Christians. And there were times when Christians were persecuted for not living up to the ideals of Christianity. Before speaking of persecution and tragedy today, we do well to ask ourselves on which side of the divide we stand.
We live in times which are a moment of truth when there is no room for compromise. While Jesus speaks of an unavoidable passion and Peter is rebuked just for wanting to avoid it, we would be tempted to say ‘How silly on the part of Jesus and how reasonable on the part of Peter’.
Like Peter, we all have our defence mechanisms and we all seek to resist what makes us suffer and lose life. There is nothing wrong in that. But Jesus today teaches that our life goes further and beyond what we would want and dream for ourselves.
This is what, according to Christ’s way of thinking, makes us completely free as human beings and strong as believers in him: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is speaking of the freedom to let go, which may seem to be a ‘losing’, but which actually is a ‘finding’. That is the inner strength of the Gospel which we are invited to experience.