As we all learned very early in Sunday school, the word “gospel” literally means “good news.” Yet this week’s gospel is full of words that sound like really bad news, words like: suffering… rejection… losing your life… and carrying your cross. No wonder Peter tries to straighten Jesus out. Peter wants happy talk. He wants miracles. He wants a Messiah who acts like a macho-Messiah… who seizes power, crushes his enemies and rewards his friends. At least that’s what Peter thinks the Messiah ought to be doing. But Jesus has a different idea.
Jesus is not the fulfillment of Peter’s fantasies. He is the embodiment of God’s love… the Lamb of God… here to save… here to serve. His kingdom is not of this world and will not be won by the weapons of this world. Yet he is the greatest revolutionary the world has ever seen. He will turn the established order on its head… changing lives, changing values, changing history… changing how we see ourselves and how we see each other… and most significantly, changing our entire relationship with God.
Poor Peter, what is he to think? Who wants a beaten Messiah… a humiliated Messiah… a crucified Messiah? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s not what the world is waiting for. No… but that is what God sends us… a Jesus who will be beaten, humiliated and crucified…. a Jesus who will suffer willingly… but a Jesus who will conquer death and rise above it all. For our salvation, God sends us a loving, humble Jesus Christ… both God and man… to teach us how to live and how to die… and how to rise again.
And if you haven’t figured it out by now… the life on earth that Jesus promises is not going to be a bed of roses. Christ tells us that his way is the way of the cross. It does not lead to earthly triumph. It leads to sacrifice… and through sacrifice it leads to resurrection. Jesus does not call us to follow him, to take up our cross, just to earn some bonus points towards our salvation. His cross has taken care of all that. He calls us to the cross because it is the essence of God’s unconditional love… the cornerstone of the new covenant. And that is what he wishes for us…. to live as he lived… and to rise again in his love.
In this gospel, Jesus is calling us to be what we call today a “servant/leader.” It is what he articulated in the Beatitudes. It is what he has demonstrated over and over… in washing his disciples’ feet, in his compassion for the blind, the deaf and the lame, in his outreach to strangers, in his forgiveness of sinners… and ultimately in his sacrifice on Calvary.
We are called to be disciples. And as disciples our lives must actively proclaim the love of Christ… not by street corner oratory… but by a life of service. Like Jesus we must lead by serving. And in that context, leadership does not mean barking commands. It means example. It means inspiration. It means being a channel of God’s grace…witnessing the love of Christ in all we do and to all we meet. Sacrifice and service… the words are easy to say… the life is hard to live. That is why Jesus accurately describes it as the way of the cross.
In an increasingly what’s-in-it-for-me world, we are called to carry the cross of Christ against a rip-tide of secular cynicism. We are called to sacrifice and serve. But we can answer that call with confidence: knowing that we’re not alone… knowing we’re going in the right direction… Christ’s way… the difficult way… the way of the cross… the way to eternal life.
That is the good news found in the tough words of today’s gospel. A suffering Jesus leads us to eternal happiness. A crucified Jesus conquers death… both his and ours. The good news doesn’t get any better than that.
Image: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.