The Conditions of Discipleship
Poor Peter. In last Sunday’s Gospel he gets the gold star for correctly answering Jesus’s penultimate question of “who do you say that I am?” Peter answers “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This Sunday’s Gospel picks up right where we left off last week; following Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus explains to his disciples what his being the Christ ultimately entails. Peter and the others were not prepared to hear the grim truth that Jesus shared with them; it did not fit into their own personal thoughts of who and what the Messiah should be. Peter responds to Jesus saying that it could not be so and his protestation earns Peter a very strong rebuke from Jesus: get behind me, Satan!
Peter and the disciples, in fact all of Israel, held on to the notion that the Messiah would be the new David in the same vein as the old David: God’s anointed, a conquering hero, who would not only re-establish the glory of Israel but also inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus, as Messiah and the new David, was exactly that but not in the way that the disciples and others wanted. They fell into the trap of attempting to refashion God in an image and likeness of their own choosing. Jesus rebukes Peter in the way he does for two reasons: first, it was Satan who tempted Jesus in the wilderness to go against the Father’s plan of salvation, thus why Peter gets called “Satan,” because his vision is not God’s vision. Second, Jesus tells Peter to get behind him; if Peter would be the Lord’s disciple, he must follow after Jesus and not attempt to dictate the course.
Following Peter’s rebuke by Jesus, the Lord then sets down the three conditions for discipleship. First, anyone who would be the Lord’s disciple must deny themselves. This notion is completely flabbergasting to a world that attempts to teach us to serve ourselves and to satisfy any want, desire, or urge that we experience. As a disciple, I must be willing to accept that my life is not my own and that life, in general, is not about me. Second, anyone who would be the Lord’s disciple must be willing to take up his or her own cross. As the Lord suffered for the sake of our salvation and that of the whole world, so we must also be ready and prepared to suffer and to unite our sufferings with the Lord’s sufferings for the salvation of the world. Third, anyone who would be the Lord’s disciple must allow the Lord Jesus to lead. The disciple who gets ahead of themselves, and the Lord, will find that they will lose track of him and become lost. We must follow the Lord, keeping our focus on him as he leads us to the fullness of life in heaven with the Father.
Peter was not perfect. He made a lot of mistakes in his own discipleship, but no matter what the blunder entailed, even to the point of denying Jesus, Peter always found his way back to the Lord. This is good news for us. We are not perfect either. Sometimes we lose sight of the Lord; sometimes we want to cling to things that are not of God or that will distract us from him. When we realize that we have mis-stepped or that we are off-course, we simply need to get back behind the Lord. Peter’s faith was not perfect yet Jesus used it as the rock on which he built the Church. Jesus will do great things with and through us too, like Peter, if we allow the Lord to do what he knows is best in our lives and if we make the conscious choice to follow him daily.
Blessings to you and yours for the week ahead!
Father Chris House