The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought about the stakes and the cost of discipleship … Gnaw away!
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost: Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo
great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes,
and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and
began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen
to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a
stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things
but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let
them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who
want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my
sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole
world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their
“For the Son of God is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,
and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you,
there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the
Son of God coming in his kingdom.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
If there were a subheading to this tiny piece of Matthew it might be “The
other shoe drops.”
Jesus has just congratulated Peter on correctly realizing that he is “the
Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus has told him “you are Peter, and
on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not
prevail against it.” He has said he will give him the keys to the kin-dom
and that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever
you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Now, we find out what that means. And Peter is not happy.
What does it mean to be the Son of the Living God? It means not a throne
but a cross. It means suffering and death.
Yes, the powers of death shall not prevail against the church … but that
only means that death is a waystation on the journey, not the final
And finally, yes, you have the power to bind and loose. But what you must
bind to yourself is Christ, and what you must loose yourself from is
everything else, even your life. Because the cross is not only Jesus
destination, but what all who follow him carry together.
Peter goes from glory to fear and disbelief. And in so he goes from Jesus
calling him “the rock” to Jesus calling him “Satan.”
Clearly, discipleship is not what Peter imagined. And clearly the stakes of
understanding well are the highest.
A few things to chew on:
*”Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus is not offering
self-help advice about a better quality of life through selflessness.
The emphasis isn’t on “loses his life” but on “for my sake.” Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” and once he answered “The Christ, the Son of the Living God,” everything changed. Once you acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the Living God, he can no longer have a status as friend or adviser or life coach. If Peter — and we — really believe Jesus is who Peter says he is, then our devotion
must be absolute … because anything else would be foolishness. It is the
difference between following a set of ideals or principles — even lofty
ones — and giving our lives over to God. And as Peter and the disciples
will discover more and more, it is a difference that means everything. As C.S. Lewis said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
*Ouch. That’s all I can feel for Peter when Jesus says “Get behind me,
Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” Peter is so sure he knows who
Jesus is and what Jesus’ will is. He hears the word “Christ” and
immediately substitutes doctrine and political agenda for relationship. To
him, the Christ can be nothing but the one who will lead the people to
temporal victory in Jerusalem. Who will overthrow the oppressors. When
Jesus says different, Peter doesn’t even consider that the one who actually
IS the Christ might know better than Peter what he’s talking about. Peter’s
first words to Jesus after acknowledging his messiahship are “you’re
wrong.” That’s the difference between us following the ideas we believe
Christ represents — even wonderful ideas like love, compassion, inclusion,
and healing — and following Christ himself. If we follow just the ideals
(where the word “idealogue” comes from), then we become the source of
wisdom and the arbiters of what is right. We even dare to tell Jesus what
role he should play. If we follow Christ, we presume no wisdom of our own
… and instead with humility look for wisdom and direction — even that
which makes no sense to us — from Jesus.
One of my favorite scenes in All the President’s Men is when Robert
Redford’s Bob Woodward is wrestling with his informant, Deep Throat (Hal
Holbrook), in a D.C. garage and he’s trying to put together the pieces that
he’s been giving him. Woodward can’t stop focusing on each individual piece
and can’t see the big picture and Hal Holbrook is getting more and more
exasperated with him and says over and over again: “You’re missing the
overall. You’re missing the overall.”
It reminds me not only of this exchange between Peter and Jesus but the
many, many times I focus on something — even something important — and
fail to see the big picture.
This week, take some time each day and sit with all the things that are
happening in your life. Then step back and pray “help me to see the
overall.” Then during the day, look for Christ’s presence and activity in
ways you might not have been able to predict or even imagine. Be open for
connections you might not have thought possible. Rest in the faith that
there is an overall, and that God — and not us — is in control.
“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo
great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.”
Jesus told his disciples not only that he would have to suffer greatly – but that the suffering would be at the hands of those considered the most righteous, respectable and holy by the rest of society. His suffering – and theirs – would not even result in them receiving sympathy or even pity. The reaction of the world to Christ’s suffering and theirs would be – “Serves them right … they had it coming!”
Is there a time where you have been afraid to stand up for what you know is right, afraid to stand up for what you know Jesus would have you do or say, not only because it would cause you suffering but because it would endanger or even destroy relationships with people who are loved and respected in the world? Write about that experience. How did it feel? How could you have made different choices? If indeed that is part of “carrying the cross,” how can we as a community of faith make sure nobody ever carries that alone?
We all have our cross to bear.
It’s the Western way to individualize just about everything — and
Christianity is no exception.
Western Christianity has turned the Gospel of Christ into a personal
entrance exam for heaven.
Have YOU – singular — been saved?
Have YOU – singular — accepted Christ?
Do YOU — singular — go to church?
Do YOU — singular — believe in God?
In a society based on the protection of personal rights — especially
property rights — we have turned the Gospel into one more story of
acquisition by personal effort.
Only that’s not what Jesus is talking about.
Witness this Gospel reading.
Jesus tells his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them
deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want
to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake
will find it.”
They. Their. Them.
We famously quote “we all have our crosses to bear” as if we are all
individual Jesuses (Jesi?) carrying our individual cross on our own
solitary stumble down our own individual Via Dolorosae.
But that’s not what Jesus says here. There is a singular here — but it’s
not the individual — it’s the cross. One cross. And we all carry it.
It’s not “we all have our crosses to bear,” it’s “we all have our cross to
There is one cross. And we carry it together.
Following Jesus is not a solo act. Exactly the opposite. Following Jesus
binds us to one another in ways wonderful and terrifying, joyful and
In Jesus there cannot be “your cross” and “my cross” … because we are all
in this body together. So your cross becomes my cross and vice versa. There
is only “our cross.”
In Jesus, we hold all things in common. That means we share risk and we
share reward. That means it’s not enough for each of us to make individual
decisions to live into our baptismal vows … we are responsible for seeing
the whole body lives into them as well.
This is such a crucial point, because Jesus asks such hard questions in
Are we willing to lose your life so we can gain it? Or will we decide to
shrink back in fear to preserve our life and end up losing it?
Will we live on the edge of “just enough” so we can boldly follow the
Gospel? Or will we store up riches in fear and never live the life Christ
dreams for us.
Will we together take ownership of the broken systems of our world — the
systems that oppress our sisters, brothers and genderfluid and gender nonconforming siblings and create misery and lives of indignity? Or will we reject the Gospel of Christ with the mantra of “not my problem,” with the false theology of “your cross, not mine.”
We are one people. All of us. And we carry the cross. Not individually —
thank God … because it is so big and so heavy. No, as the Body of Christ,
we carry it together. And together that road of our cross will lead us to
the life we’ve been longing to find.
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every
Sunday –  just click here.
Collect for Sunday
Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
God of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft
in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish
us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who
wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.