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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): What Will They Give in Return for Their Life?

(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)


Matthew 16.21-27


Last week, we listened as Peter--a man with little faith--proclaims boldly that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We listened as Jesus gives Peter--a human who makes many mistakes--the keys for building the Kingdom of God on earth. God acts through Peter's faith; God collaborates with Peter. This week, though, Peter acts on his own.

From that time on, 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. 

In the Gospels we often hear Jesus trying to explain the Plan of God to his disciples, but they never seem to get it. It is difficult for us to understand why they don't get it, because we already know about the Resurrection. It is a fact that has happened, it is an event we celebrate at Mass, it is our hope each day. It is hard for us to comprehend how mind-blowing the idea of life after death truly is. In any case, the disciples do not ever seem truly able to buy into the Plan.

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.”

Whoa. Those are harsh words from Jesus. Peter must feel like he got his face slapped. "You just called me the Rock, Lord, and now you're calling me Satan?"


The word "satan" means "adversary"--someone you are in conflict with. An adversary is an opponent, but more than that, someone who is working against you. Of course it is the word for the Evil One, the one who is against God, the opposite of Love.


Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem where he will complete his mission to lay down his life. Why is he doing that? His life is a gift from God to the world. Why is he about to end it?

what will they give in return for their life?

Jesus knows his life is a gift. What can he give God in return? What can he give but greatest thing he has: his life. He lays down his life, he offers his whole self, in the greatest act of Love. It is the most complete act of Love because he is the Son of God who is Love. Jesus is completely Love.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Jesus is also human, so is it easy for him to lay down his life? I sincerely doubt it. How hard it must be for him to hear his Rock say, "God forbid it! This must never happen to you"? Peter is making it harder for him. Peter is setting his mind on human things, when Jesus is trying to keep his mind on the divine Plan. Peter is standing in the way, he is acting against Love.


Oh, dear. Do any of us want to find ourselves acting against Love?


Again Jesus tries to explain how the Plan works.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

"If you want to become my followers..." Jesus reminds the disciples that God invites us to participate in the Plan. God would like to collaborate with us, but it is our choice.


"Let them deny themselves..." Deny is an interesting word that has several meanings. Most helpful, I think, is the meaning, "to refuse to give or grant something." To deny ourselves is to refuse to give ourself the driver's seat. It means to forbid ourselves to take over the control of our life. To forbid ourselves, not to forbid Jesus, not to forbid God's Plan for all people. We can see Peter's mistake now.


"Take up their cross..." Jesus doesn't tell us to take up his cross. He says, "their cross." His mission takes him to Jerusalem, to the tomb, and beyond. My cross, your cross--they are different. In Baptism, we are given a unique role to play in the building of the kingdom. Each of us has been given a different mission as part of the Plan. It will take us to "the beyond," but it will look different for each of us.


"...and follow me." This is key, isn't it? We are invited to collaborate with God, not to act on our own. We are invited to follow Jesus, not to branch out on our own. Together with Jesus, we build the kingdom of God. Together with God, we write the history of tomorrow. We participate in the Plan of God.


We have been invited. We have been given this life and our own unique role to play in the Plan of God. What a gift! Jesus's question rings in our ears,

what will they give in return for their life?

How will we respond?

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