Today’s Gospel theme is discipleship. A life which does not exclude suffering.
The Gospel continues from where we left off last Sunday. The apostles have proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus proceeds to dispel any illusions they may have about the Messiah; he was not there to free the Jews from the Romans. He further tells them that he would have to suffer and die. But his death would bring new life, he would rise from the dead. Peter is again the first to reply to Jesus’ declaration. This time, however, it is not his faith which is portrayed but his lack of understanding. Peter does not want Jesus to suffer. Jesus scolds Peter. It was as if Peter was tempting Christ not to do what was being expected of him. Jesus continues to speak, about the life of the disciple. The choices of a disciple would not always be easy, and the reward would not be received on earth but after death.
When Jesus states “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,” he is asking for our commitment. When someone has a goal in life, he strives to achieve it. Athletes and musicians are a clear example. Everyday, they dedicate long hours to practice and training. They give up certain things, including time with their families and friends, athletes for example even adhere to certain diets. Even whilst on holiday, they dedicate a time during the day for training and practice. They have an aim and they want to achieve it; they are ready to make big sacrifices to attain what they want. This is what Jesus is asking of us. What do we want? Do we want to follow him or not? Half measures are not accepted. An athlete does not wake up in the morning, see that it is raining and goes back to sleep. You must admire their determination; early in the morning, you see them running, in the rain, cold, wind and sunshine. Christian living also requires a commitment. We must decide whether we want to live as Christians, bring up our family with Christian values or not.
When Jesus spoke about his suffering, Peter tried to convince him to find another way out. Jesus, however, knew that this was what he was meant to do. This was why he had become man. He did so in view of our salvation. He did not want to save us, solely through his teaching and good example; his death and resurrection were also part of what he was meant to do. Just as athletes and musicians, may find obstacles, even from those close to them, we may find people who will laugh at us or hinder us, because we are trying to live a good life and bring up our family according to true Christian values. When we decide to follow Jesus, we do not give up our freedom, but we have responsibilities of living the values we believe in.
Where can we find help, to live as true Christians? The sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will give us the help we need. They will give us the courage, the will, and the strength to accept the cross and to carry it. Last week, the importance of community was mentioned. The community helps us during this journey. When we are losing hope, when we feel that the cross is too heavy to carry, when we meet with difficulties, being part of a Christian community will help and give us the support we need. Let us remember that Jesus never wanted us to walk this journey on our own. When he sent the disciples, he sent them in twos, so that they could support each other (“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” [Luke 10, 1]).