GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time continues our journey through the middle of Matthew's Gospel and moves us into a theme that's very prominent in the teaching of Jesus, but also very difficult, and that's a relationship between discipleship,
following Jesus, and the mystery of suffering, the mystery of the cross.
So in this instance we are going to be looking at the story of how Jesus begins to talk about the cross to the disciples and how they react against it — especially Peter — and then how that provides a springboard for him to open up the mystery of the cross in the life of all of his disciples, and the relation between suffering and following him.
So the Gospel for this week is from Matthew 16:21-27:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen
But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
So what do we make of this mysterious text, this mysterious passage in Matthew's Gospel?
Let's try putting it in its context.
First, notice the setting.
When it says that “from that time Jesus began to show his disciples he must suffer,” it's talking about after Peter's confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi.
So this happens immediately after Jesus asked his disciples who he is, and then Peter responds by saying you're the son of God, and then Jesus has just renamed Simon as Peter, the rock upon which he will build his Church.
Now no sooner does that happen, then Jesus begins to basically open up the mystery of the cross to them.
And as usual, Peter, good ole impetuous Peter, jumps the gun and takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him.
Now think about that for just a second.
Think about the audacity of Peter, one of the students, one of the disciples, taking the master aside and saying “look, let me tell you how it's going to be.”
That's what “rebuke him” means.
He is rebuking Jesus' declaration of the passion, and so something amazing happens here.
When Peter says “this is never going to happen to you,” Jesus turns around and says “get behind me Satan.”
In a sense, what's going on in that verse — most people are familiar with it, but think about it for a second — in context, what is Jesus doing?
He's giving Peter another name.
He's just renamed Simon as Peter, the foundation of the Church; now he turns around and called him Satan, who is the adversary of God's people.
Now why would he do something so harsh?
Well notice what Jesus says there.
He doesn't just rename Peter as Satan, he says “get behind me, Satan!
You are a hindrance to me.”
The Greek word here for hindrance is skandalon.
We get the English word scandal from that, so he is saying you are a scandal to me.
Now what is interesting about that is that in the original Greek, the word skandalon
literally means “a stumbling stone.”
would be a stone in the path that you trip over when you are walking.
So what Jesus is doing here, in a sense, is punning off of the name he just gave Peter.
So when Peter was confessing faith in Jesus’ divine sonship he was the rock, he was the Petra
; but now that he is opposed to the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus, he's become a skandalon,
a stumbling stone.
So he is still a rock, but he's taken on a different form here.
So this is very powerful.
Why would Jesus speak so harshly to Peter?
Why is he saying these things about him?
Well, because the way Jesus, as divine son of God, has come in to the world to save the world is precisely through suffering, it’s through the redemptive suffering of his cross.
And to the extent that Peter opposes the idea of Jesus’ suffering and dying, he opposes the salvation of the world, he opposes the way that God has chosen to redeem the world, to set it free from sin and death, and of course then, in a sense, he is also opposing the resurrection, because that is going to be the ultimate consequence of Jesus's passion and his death.
So this conflict between him and Peter, in a sense, opens up for Jesus the opportunity to talk about true discipleship.
Most of us, when we think about the story of Peter and Jesus, we end with “get behind me Satan.”
We say “look at Jesus, he kind of rebuked Peter because Peter doesn’t understand the cross.”
That is not where the story stops in Matthew's Gospel, because in Matthew's Gospel Jesus — once again — uses Peter's mistake as an opportunity to open up a deeper mystery, to teach them something further.
And in this case, it is about the mystery of suffering and discipleship.
So what does Jesus say?
Well he makes a few points.
First, he lays out the conditions for being a disciple.
He says “if any man would come after me,” let them do two things.
He has “to deny himself” and he has to “take up his cross and follow me.”
What does that mean?
Well, when Jesus says “if anyone will come after me,” he's using a very concrete metaphor for following him as a disciple.
Now today when we talk about being believers in Jesus, we put all the emphasis — or most of the emphasis — on accepting certain doctrines of Jesus, like I believe he is divine, I believe he is the Son of God, so I'm a believer.
But in the Gospels, you will notice that the disciples aren’t called believers — although they do believe — they are called disciples, and the Greek word disciple literally means “a student,” mathitís
is the word.
So if you're a student, you follow the master. You don’t just believe what the master says, you imitate him, you live like him, you walk with him, you act like him.
So Jesus saying if you want to be my disciple, you have to do two things, you have to accept suffering and you have to imitate me.
What's the image he uses for that?
A very striking one.
He says “you have to deny yourself and take up your cross.”
Now again, in contemporary Christianity, we will use the metaphor of taking up your cross as an example for accepting the sufferings of our daily life, and that's a good application of the image.
But in a first century Jewish setting that metaphorical meaning hadn’t happened yet.
If you told someone you have to take up your cross, the cross was a form of execution and nothing more.
It was simply the most brutal, the most heinous, the most shameful way to die at the hands of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D.
So when Jesus says to Peter and the disciples “if you want to follow me, you have to take up your cross,” he's calling them to nothing less than suffering and death.
It would be like today to take some other method of execution and say “you have to take up your electric chair and follow me.”
That would be a shocking and grizzly image for being my student, being my follower, and yet that's how Jesus described discipleship.
He is pulling no punches here about what's involved in being a follower.
You have to accept suffering.
And notice that, it's not just that you suffer, but he says “take up the cross.”
In other words, pick it up, carry it and walk behind me, imitate me, follow me.
Well because where is Jesus going?
He's going to Jerusalem to die and his disciples need to follow him.
He's going to walk the way of the cross all the way to Calvary, and then through Calvary to the resurrection.
So those are the conditions of discipleship, accepting suffering and imitating Christ.
The second thing Jesus gives here is the paradox of discipleship, because most of us if we encounter suffering, what do we try to do?
We have a natural inclination to save our lives, to avoid suffering, to run from it, to flee from it.
And what does Jesus say here?
“Whoever would save his life,” paradoxically ends up losing it, “but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
So notice that.
What is the paradox of discipleship?
It's that if we as disciples willingly suffer, even unto death, for the sake of Jesus, we actually end up saving ourselves, we end up saving our lives.
We are afraid to lose life, but the reality is that Jesus is the only one who can give it.
So the paradox of discipleship is the paradox of the cross.
The only way to the glory of the resurrection, for Jesus himself, is through the cross of Calvary.
And the same thing is going to be true for his disciples.
Unfortunately it's easy for us to want the glory of the resurrection without the shame and the suffering of Good Friday, but there is no other ladder to heaven — St. Rose of Lima said — than the ladder of the cross.
That is the paradox of discipleship.
It's precisely through suffering that we enter into life, that we end up saving our lives.
The third thing Jesus lays out here is what I would call the cost of discipleship.
His final saying there is “what does it profit someone, if he gains the whole world but he forfeits his life?“
Now let me pause there for a second.
The Revised Standard Version translates that as forfeits his life and other translations will do the same thing there, but the Greek word is actually psychē,
it's the word we get psychology from, and it means, literally, “the soul.” Psychē
in Greek can mean both soul and life, and in this case the more likely meaning in context is soul.
In other words, “what does it profit a person if they gain the whole world,” in other words the whole material world, “but they lose their soul.”
And you will see Jesus talk about this frequently in other cases where people give themselves over to the desire for riches and wealth and they end up losing the kingdom of God, they lose eternal life.
And he says again, “what should a man get in ransom,” in return, “for his soul?”
In other words, is there any money, is there any gold in the world that is precious enough to buy even a single human soul?
And the answer is no.
So the cost of discipleship is Jesus' final message here.
What is he saying to the disciples?
If you want to be my follower, it's not going to cost you anything on one level, it is free; it's just going to cost you everything on the spiritual level.
Namely, it's going to cost you your life.
It is going to cost you your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength, because that's what he's calling his disciples to give to him.
To love him, to love the Lord with all their heart, all their mind, all their soul and all their strength, even unto death.
So what Jesus is trying to reveal here is that if people want to chase after the things of this world, if they want to gain the whole world, and even if they just want to save their own natural life, they risk losing the supernatural life of the kingdom and the eternal life of the soul.
That is the mystery and the paradox of discipleship to Jesus.
And if you have any doubts about the fact that he's talking about the soul and about the resurrection and about eternal life, you can just look at that final verse of the Gospel.
Because what does he fast forward to?
The last judgment.
“For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man according to what he has done.”
So the context he gives for all he is teaching is the final judgment and the resurrection of the dead.
So why should I not fear suffering?
Why should I accept it and try to imitate Christ?
Because I have eyes fixed on the final judgment and the resurrection of the dead.
Why shouldn't I try to save my life?
Why should I be willing to give my life for the sake of the Gospel instead of clinging to natural life?
Because my ultimate goal is the resurrection, the final judgment when the Son of man comes to judge the living and the dead.
Why is it more valuable to me to hold on to my soul rather than gain the whole world?
Because if I keep my soul I can participate in the resurrection the dead and the life of the world to come, the eternal life of the kingdom.
So all of this is in the context of the hope of salvation.
That's what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples, and he uses Peter's gaffe here of opposing him as the opportunity to unveil this mystery.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
SSo this is a wonderful section of the letter if you're looking for moral guidance or spiritual guidance from Paul on how to live the Christian life and how to live the life in Christ.
And so he begins this —we might call it a more ethical, a more spiritual section of Romans—with an appeal to his readers. And this is what he says in chapter 12, verses 1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Okay, so the first thing that you might notice is the liturgical language that Paul uses. Some scholars would call this the cultic language. Now by cult there, we don’t mean a kind of religious cult the way we think of it today, but the ancient Latin way—which, a cultus would mean some kind of observance of an offering of sacrifice or making an oath. It was just a standard term for the worship that would be offered to God in a temple. So you had Greco Roman cults, like the worship of Athena or the worship of Zeus. But you also had the Jewish cult, which was the worship of the one God of Israel. So cultic activity is activity that takes place in a temple through sacrifice and through worship.
And so Paul here is taking the language of sacrifice and of the Jewish temple, but he’s applying it to Christian believers when he tells them to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God as their spiritual worship. Now the Greek word that Paul uses here for present, paristimi
, is the very same word that you would use in the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures when you talked about presenting an animal to God, offering sacrifice in the Jewish tabernacle—the sacrificial worship of the tabernacle or the temple.
Now, if you know anything about Jewish temple worship or ancient Israelite worship in the tabernacle, you know that there really is no such thing as a living sacrifice, at least when it came to the animals. Because what would happen with animal sacrifice was precisely that you would take sheep or a bull or a goat or a turtledove, and then you would put those animals to death. You would either slit the throat of the animal, or with the birds you could break the neck, and then the dead animal would be offered to God as a sacrifice. Like in a whole burnt offering, you take a lamb or a goat, and you would burn the animal in its entirety and offer it up to God.
When it came to Passover, for example, you would slit the throat of the lamb, pour out the blood of the lamb, and then the blood would be poured on the altar as a sacrifice to God. And the reason it was done this way—you could go into a lot more depth on this than I’m doing now, but just in a nutshell—was because it was a symbolic self-offering to God of one’s own life. It was a way through sign and symbol and sacrifice to offer one’s self to God. Sacrifice was seen as a form of prayer. It was meant to atone for sin, to be sure, but it was also an expression of self-offering to God.
And you can actually see this is Leviticus 17:11. The reason the blood would be poured out to God was because the life of the flesh was seen as being in the blood. So Leviticus says:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life.
And the Hebrew word for life there is nephesh
. It means life but it can also be translated as soul. So the offering of one’s soul, the offering of one’s life to God was expressed ritually through the offering of animal sacrifice. So Paul is doing something really fascinating here. He’s taking the language of Jewish sacrifice, the language of the Jewish temple, the language of animal sacrifice...but he’s applying it to the individual Christian, to the individual believer. And he’s saying:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies...
Not the body of a goat or the body of a bull or the body of a sheep or the body of a dove, but:
...present your bodies as a living sacrifice…
Not a dead sacrifice, not a bloody sacrifice, but a living sacrifice...
...holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
He’s calling—I keep saying Christians but every time I say it, I remember, he doesn’t say the word Christian. What does Paul say? He calls believers “saints,” which the Greek word literally is hagioi
, holy ones. So notice what he says here:
...present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
So that terminology of “holy” would be something that would be applied to sacrifices in the Old Testament, because the word “holy” means to set apart—kadosh
in Hebrew, as well as hagios
in Greek. It means to set apart. So when an animal was deemed to be holy, it would be set apart for sacrifice, for offering in the temple. You only offered God holy things, things that have been set apart for Him.
And so what Paul is doing here is he’s telling Christians that they are going (in a sense) to take the role in the new covenant that animal sacrifices had in the old covenant. But they’re going to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him, set apart for God who is their spiritual worship. Now what does that mean, spiritual worship? This is a tough expression to translate in Paul. The Greek is literally logikē latreian
. Now latreia
is just the standard Greek word for liturgical worship or cultic worship...or sacrificial worship would be the best way to translate it.
But Paul adds the adjective logikē
to it, which literally means “logical” or “rational.” The RSV translates it here as “spiritual” and that’s okay, but it really is “offer it to God, which is your rational worship” or “your reasonable worship” or “your logical worship.” And scholars have gone back and forth, back and forth about what exactly that adjective means. What does he mean, logical worship or reasonable worship? And frankly, I still need to do more research on that, because it’s kind of a unique phrase. So there’s more to be said. You could describe it as christological, in the sense that this is the worship of the new covenant, because what is Christ? He is the logos,
He is the word made flesh. So it’s worship in accordance with the word.
But that’s actually something John says in the Gospel. It’s not Paul’s normal way of talking about Christ as the logos
. He has other terms that he uses. So it’s kind of a mysterious expression here, but one thing is clear: he’s contrasting it with the bloody animal sacrifice of the Old Testament. So this is a new form of worship, a new form of latreia
, in which what’s being offered to God in worship is actually the bodies of believers themselves.
So one suggestion here about what Paul means by this can actually be found earlier in the letter to the Romans. He appears to be alluding to something he says earlier in the letter. In Romans 6:12 and following, he talks about the body of a Christian. And he uses the same language of presenting your body to God as a sacrifice. Listen to what he says about how he imagines this being done. Romans 6:12 and following. He says:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not [present] your members…
And the Greek word there for “present” is the same word he uses in Romans 12 for present a sacrifice. So don’t present your members, meaning members of your body.
Do not [present] your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but [present] yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
For just as you once [presented] your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now [present] your members to righteousness for sanctification.
...or for holiness. That’s Romans 6:12-13 and verse 19. You might think, “Well, Dr. Pitre, that doesn’t actually clear it up. That passage is obscure in its own right.” And I understand it, but let me just sum up what Paul is saying there.
Paul is describing the whole human life and the moral decisions we make, not as a list of rules, like “do this” and “don’t do this.” He’s describing the moral battle between sin and righteousness—that moral decision that we make between sin and righteousness—as a liturgical act, as a sacrificial act. In other words, I’m either going to offer my body to sin or I’m going to offer myself and my body to God. One of them leads to wickedness, and the other one leads to holiness. So the essence of holiness for Paul is setting my body and myself apart from sin and for God, just like the animals in the Old Testament were set apart from the world and set apart for God by being offered to Him, by being presented to Him.
In fact, some of the later rabbinic traditions describe them cutting different portions of the animal and then offering literally the members: the leg, the shank, and different parts of the animal to God in sacrifice. And then other parts would be eaten by the participants in worship. Here, Paul is using all of that language of animal sacrifice, but he’s saying, “You present your body, present your members, to God as an offering that leads to righteousness and holiness.”
So in other words, Paul thinks of the morality of the Christian life as a kind of liturgical act, as an act of worship, so that when you choose the good and you choose the holy, when you choose what is right, it’s offering glory to God. It’s a way of worshipping God. You may think of worship as “I go to worship on Sunday, I worship God for an hour, and then I just live my life for the rest of the week.” That’s not how Paul sees it. Paul sees every moral choice that we make, every decision we make about what to do, especially with our bodies, as an act of either offering ourself to God (which is worship) or offering ourself to sin in opposition to God.
So, it’s a very different way of looking at the Christian life. And that’s how he begins his chapter—the next couple of chapters—where he’s going to be talking about various ethical issues and moral issues about how to live out the Christian life. So it’s a very different framework and a very powerful one. And it’s in that context that Paul says:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2a)
So this just points up, once again, that for Paul, salvation is not just getting out of hell. It’s not a “get out of hell free” card. That’s a quote from Dr. Michael Barber...he always used that expression. It’s not just saving you from something; it’s saving you for
something. So Paul expects Christians to be changed, to live differently, to no longer be conformed to this world.
Now pause there. You’ll recall in previous lectures, I talked about Paul’s theology of the old creation and the new creation. He has this idea of these two spheres of reality, the old fallen world of creation and then the new creation, which is the realm of the spirit. And Christians, although they live in this world (the fallen world), they’re not supposed to live of this world. They’re not supposed to belong to it. They’re not supposed to conform to this world, because this world is a world of sin and a world of death. So what Paul is saying is, don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed...be changed by the renewal of your mind.
And I think that’s actually the key to what he means by logikē latreia
—rational worship. In other words, Christianity is not just a religion of the heart; it’s a religion of the mind. It’s not just a changed heart. It’s also a changed mind. We think about things differently. We see reality differently. When we look at the world, it might look like this world is all there is or that we’re made for this fallen world, but logically, according to reason, according to what God has revealed, we’re actually made for the world to come. And so:
...be transformed by the renewal of your mind…
Now, the Greek word here for transformed is metamorphoō
. We get the word metamorphosis from it. So Paul expects Christians to really change the way they think about things. And the closest synonym to this change of mind is actually a word that Jesus uses in the Gospels—metanoia
. It means repentance. It’s translated as repentance, but it literally means a “change of mind.” The Greek word for mind is noús.
means to change your mind. And here Paul’s talking about the transformation of the mind.
So the primary thing he wants the Romans that he’s writing to to do is change the way they think about sin and the way they think about holiness...and help them understand that the call of the Christian is to live a life of self-offering to God with every moral decision that we make, with every act that we engage in. And when we begin to think differently about the world and about ourselves, it actually will lead us to change the way we act. This is very important. If you don’t change the way people think, you will very likely not change the way they act. So the intellect and the will—or the mind and the heart, to use biblical language—are both crucial to the transformation of a Christian to living the Christian life.
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