There Must Be Another Way
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Peter may be the “rock” on which Christ will build the church (Matt. 16:18), but when Jesus reveals the suffering that will come first, Peter becomes a tempter and “stumbling block.” Assuming God must have a different way to save the world, Peter protests Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus explains to Peter and all his disciples that, in fact, this is the way to life—losing one’s life in order to find it.
By tempting Jesus to an easier way than his journey through suffering to resurrection, Peter personifies a temptation common to all generations of Jesus’ disciples: seeking a way to avoid “losing oneself,” instead of surrendering all to and with the one we follow. Rather than losing our lives—our selves, possessions, and time—we hold on more tightly, afraid of what will happen to our comfort, success, and identity if we let go. Those things we hold onto then become, like Peter, stumbling blocks along the way of self-giving love.
But while “saving one’s life” sounds sensible, those things also stand in the way of the new life into which Jesus beckons us to follow him. Perhaps Peter’s problem is that he sees only the suffering and death, without grasping the new life that comes through it. In times when we too are tempted by worldly ways of comfort and success, convinced that surely God must have an easier way than the way of self-giving love, this gospel reminds us that resurrection and life await on the other side of suffering and death.
This is the way of our God who becomes human in Jesus: emptying himself of power and dignity, losing his very own life for the sake of the world’s life. Seen through the lens of resurrection just ahead on the journey, what other way could there be?
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
After Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16), Jesus reveals the ultimate purpose of his ministry. These words prove hard to accept, even for a disciple whom Jesus has called a “rock.”
21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] 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. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But 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.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”