Jer. 20:7-9; Rom. 12:1-2; Mt. 16: 21-27
The first reading from Jeremiah 20 and the second from Rom 12 already tell us that to be a servant of the Lord entails suffering. Jeremiah complained to the Lord: “All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me” (v.7); “the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day” (v.8). Because of the suffering, he resolved: “I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more” (v.9). And yet the gift of prophecy prevailed over him and he obeyed God’s command to speak for him to his people. St. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, urges us to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice … a spiritual worship” (v.1). He elevates the sufferings of the body to the level of “spiritual worship.” How are we to do that? “By the renewal of your mind that you may discern …the will of God” (v.2). This statement is vital: “renewal of the mind”; we are rational beings, and where we fix our attention, that becomes the focus of our thoughts and actions. Discerning and choosing the will of God “is good and pleasing and perfect.” That is what gives us peace of mind and health to both body and soul, which “derision and reproach” and even contradictions cannot weaken.
The expectation of all Israelites of Jesus’ time was that the Messiah would come to save Israel from the Roman occupiers and restore the Davidic Kingdom. Thus when Jesus spoke of suffering and dying, Peter contradicted him. That was, and still is, the work of satan, so that Jesus called Peter satan. We are made from dust and ashes and so we are earth-bound; we desire what pleases the body. Jesus tells us that to be heaven-bound, we have to mortify the body, deny its desires so we can look up and see and appreciate the things of heaven. We are like Peter; we “are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (v.23).
You Nanays and Tatays already know what this “living sacrifice & spiritual worship” is, because as you rear your babies to childhood and your children into adulthood you had to deny yourself in many ways and many times. You exercise much patience in teaching them to clean themselves, keep their rooms tidy, to eat properly, to speak properly removing all bad words from their lips, and teaching them to care for each other and respect the elder. Mothers, adjusting to the character of each child is a work of love that includes self-denial. You exercise much self-control to hold your irritation and anger in. You smile even when you feel pain. Husbands, when you refuse to give in to illicit pleasure because you want to be true to your marriage vows, you are denying yourself and taking up your cross. Fathers, when you pursue your projects and plans to gain money for the family, despite ill-health or bodily pain, you are denying yourself and taking up the cross. Yes, in many ways we have denied ourselves and taken up the cross for our loved ones. All we have to learn is to realize that in doing so, we follow Christ by making a conscious act of love for Jesus. The final apart of the Gospel is a reminder that Jesus will come back in majesty and glory with his angels to “repay everyone according to his conduct.” What is presupposed by this statement is that we will all rise again from the dust and face the Lord on the last day. As I had stated above, we have already shared in the dying to self with Christ, and, therefore, we will also share in his resurrection. If we have done all those carrying the cross and dying for love of Jesus, we will surely await his return confident that we can look up and raise our head for our salvation is at hand.