22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The gospels always point at Him.
We read the scriptures to hear Jesus and heed Him. More than that, we seek meeting Jesus – to glimpse, overhear, relish, befriend, and love Him. Inevitably, since every word is about Jesus, every word also reveals His cross.
Today’s reading is the crux of the Christian message. In a few verses, the whole symphony of God’s salvation is collapsed into a few discordant notes of incomprehension, shock, and inevitability. Matthew sugarcoats nothing. Try as it might, the human imagination cannot fathom the sacrifice God is willing to bear for love.
As happened with Peter, it is perhaps natural for us to turn away from the cross. The brutality is simply too much to bear. What we might consider from today’s reading is that Jesus – in his full humanity – was not immune to that revulsion, that in His flesh and blood fragility, He could not but feel anguished trepidation for what was about to befall Him.
Having just proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, Peter could not accept so radical a reversal of what he expected that Messiah to be. But Jesus’ response perhaps indicates that Peter also touched a nerve, a vulnerability. Note that Matthew has Jesus speak virtually the same harsh rebuke against Peter as for dismissing Satan when tempted in the desert. Jesus is now as alone and vulnerable on the road to Golgotha as He was after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Peter’s insistence on a way out was so dangerous because Jesus was already in the Gethsemane of having to find a way through.
To be fair to Peter, his intervention bespeaks love. But love can be wrong when it is so controlling, so fearful, or so rigid as to thwart the mission God entrusts to each of us. Matthew exposes conversion as incomplete – indeed of counter-purpose – if it does not include converting to the cross.
A remarkable example of this twofold conversion is Edith Stein. A German Jew and philosopher, Edith chose to be baptized after witnessing a close friend draw sustenance from faith after her husband was killed in the First World War. Trained for enquiry, Edith pondered the source of such steadfastness from suffering. Inspired by the spiritual autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, Edith joined the Carmel, assuming the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
With the Holocaust underway, Teresa saw her cross coming, and embraced it. She died at Auschwitz, participating in the suffering of her people – with and for them; with and through God’s love.
Teresa described this cross as “science.” No conjecture, it is a verifiable fact that the redemptive suffering of Jesus has transformed the lives of innumerable persons. By His cross, circumstances of deepest despair become hopeful, while wounds that would otherwise be devastating mutate into capacities for love. With such cause and effect, the recipients of Christ’s love turn into lovers – those made whole by Christ’s cross become cross bearers.
Teresa writes: “Being one with Christ is our sanctity….and progressively becoming one with Him our happiness on earth. The love of the cross in no way contradicts being a joyful child of God. Helping Christ carry his cross fills one with a strong and pure joy. Those who may and can do so, – the builders of God’s kingdom – are the most authentic children of God.”
How do we recognize the cross we are to bear? In what way can we be Simon of Cyrene for the cross Jesus carries today? We can start where Jesus began His teaching in Matthew, with the Beatitudes.
The cross of being poor in spirit – de-centring the egoism our culture idolizes.
The cross of mourning – shedding tears for our mistakes, and for the suffering of others.
The cross of meekness – being gentle with one another, and walking with gratitude on our fragile earth.
The cross of justice – “offering our bodies” – as St. Paul writes in today’s second reading – to be the “living sacrifice” for “the will of God.”
The cross of mercy – not just from empathy, but from forgiving, and being forgiven.
The cross of purification – making ready our hearts to see God, especially to see God in others.
The cross of making peace – bridging divides, sacrificing our own certitudes to love even our enemies.
The cross of persecution, for Black Lives Matter, for MeToo, for our part taking care of the climate, for overdue justice for our First Nations.
Jesus spoke these crosses as “blessing” because they are the means for us to grow ever greater trust in God. And Jesus insisted these crosses were light yokes to bear because He would be shouldering them with us, every step of the way.