George Bennard in 1913 in his wonderful composition- the old rugged Cross describes the Cross as an emblem of suffering and shame”. On the cross he says, “The dearest and best was slain for a world of sinners.” George Bennard professes to cling firm to the old rugged cross and to exchange it for a crown at the end. The cross is more than a piece of wood we see hanging in our churches, decorating seasonal greeting cards or worn as jewelries. For us Christians, the cross of Christ means more. St. Paul calls it a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 cor. 1:23). But for us Christians, the Cross is the symbol of Victory. The only way to the Crown. No one in the real sense of it would wish himself the cross, suffering or shame. But the word of God on this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A  invites us to cling to the Cross so we can exchange it at the end for a Crown.

 Tale of Woes (Jer. 20:7-9)

In today’s first reading we hear the lamentations of Jeremiah in the face of his sufferings for proclaiming the word of God.  In it, Jeremiah accuses Yahweh of seducing him but it offers us a powerful description of someone suffering for obedience to his conscience. Jeremiah was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God’s mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results of disobedience to God’s commandments. He is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ.

 Get behind me, Satan (Mt. 16:21-27)

In the gospel of today we heard the immediate reaction of Peter as Jesus mentioned the cross and suffering as necessary components of his messianic mission. I see Peter’s reaction as normal because no one would wish oneself suffering and shame, and no one would wish loved ones such. The quick rebuke of Jesus is very striking: “Get behind me Satan, you think like humans, not like God” bearing in mind the praise he received in last week’s reading after his profound confession of faith. Get behind me Satan sounds like the same rebuke to Satan in the wilderness but there is a difference between the two. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It’s your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way you would like me to go.” Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ’s follower or better put Apprentice. This takes us to look at the meaning of apprenticeship which Robert Barron used in his book ‘The strangest way’.

 Christian Apprenticeship (Mt. 16:21-27; Rom. 12:1-2)

There are three conditions laid down in the gospel of today for Christian Apprenticeship:

 a) Deny yourself: This implies evicting selfish thoughts and desires out of our hearts. This is like walking in the path of Jesus: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1-10). One important aspect of denying ourselves is to constantly remind ourselves that all we have comes from God. Our successes or the good and privileged positions we may occupy in the society should inspire gratitude to God and service to humanity not pride and arrogance.

 b) Take up your cross: There is no life without some challenges. We all experience sufferings in different ways. As Christians, our personal sufferings become our share in the cross of Jesus. St. Paul describes his own sufferings as marks of Jesus’ passion and death. We are encouraged to take up our cross: 1) when we suffer by serving others, like taking care of sick loved ones or partners etc. 2) when we give ourselves: our health, wealth, time and talents to others though it hurts us.

 c) Follow me: Following Jesus means that, as Disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of love. In the second reading Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their Christian lives in such a way that they differ both from the Jews and from the pagans. St. Paul calls them to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in their worship of God. In order to do this, they must explicitly reject the behaviour of the world around them and follow Jesus.

About a week ago, I stumbled upon a bill of one of these new generation Churches. It reads: Do you have Diabetes, Ulcer, Cancer, HBP? Do you have a broken home, stubborn children, drunkard husband? Are you jobless and tired of searching for one, are your enemies trying to pull you down, are witches or wizards troubling your life? Come to Boki main Square, Okundi, all your problems will vanish. And I asked myself, what are we talking about here? Is this religion we’re advertising or a commercial commodity? This certainly is not Christianity. But this is what we want to hear, that we would not suffer. We would not be sick. We would not be hungry. We would not be jobless. We would never have disappointments. There will always be money more than enough in our Bank accounts. This is what we want to hear. And we will clap for the man of God and shout Amen!

This certainly dear friends is not true Christianity. There’s no Crossless Christianity because there’s no Crossless Christ.  If there was any other way, Christ would have shown us. But he carried his Cross all the way to Calvary and drank the cup of suffering to the dregs. We too must do same. He says to us like Peter, Get behind me and learn. Get behind and succeed.  Get behind and I will give you Victory. The Cross is the only way to the Crown. Help us Lord to carry our crosses daily and follow you. Amen!



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