Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

The Necessity That Makes a Difference
Matthew 16:21-28
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 17–Sunday between August 28 and September 3 Inclusive)
analysis by Al Jabs


21From that time on [after Peter’s confession], Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


DIAGNOSIS: The Necessity of Fate: “This must not happen to you.”

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Stumbling block
Peter gets in the way of Jesus’ divine mission. Peter thinks he’s doing Jesus a favor by taking him aside and giving Jesus some advice. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Peter, who in last week’s gospel confessed Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” shows his expectations about the messianic age — and it doesn’t include suffering and death. Profiting in life means staying alive. His expectation may also be the same for those who follow the Messiah. So may ours.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Humanly-minded
Glory-mindedness about the Messiah is human-mindedness. Worse than that, Jesus associates setting the mind on “human things” as demonic: “Get behind me Satan!” Peter is not his own master in these efforts. His own self-willed being is enslaved under the sway of another, far removed from the designs of God.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Forfeiting life
When life is lived as a “denial of death” rather than a “denying of self,” then that life is forfeited. God makes his critical assertion upon those following another ruler — and it is the judgment of death. That is what we get “in return for our lives.” The coming of the Son of Man to bring repayment (v. 27) sounds ominous indeed.

PROGNOSIS: The Necessity of Life: “He must go to Jerusalem”

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Son’s coming — for us!
Jesus does not seek any quick and easy outs from this judgment in his coming as the Son of Man. But it is how he comes in this gospel — how he comes initially — that makes all the difference. He comes via a journey that “must go to Jerusalem” — there to “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” All of this is to pay the price of our disobedience, and our illicit ownership under the realm of the demonic, in order to bring us back into the good graces of God. His “profit” through his life expended on our behalf is to win us back, and not leave us forfeited to fate.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Divinely-minded
Now that we hear that promising presence, then we may hear with joyous faith of “the Son of Man [who] is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” We may see that the crucified path of our Lord is a path to be affirmed; and in that affirmation to reap the reward of getting “repaid” for our faith — repaid in fruits of righteousness. No longer are we subject to the elemental spirits of this world, but to the hopes of promise that are ours by Christ’s divine necessity.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Following
Our vocation as the crucified Messiah’s disciples is to follow our Lord — not take the lead or try to redirect the mission. It doesn’t mean going out and looking for crosses to bear. They will come via the ridicule and hostility from worldly thinkers who reject anything short of a life of profiting for oneself. But in the following, we bear witness to an age coming. Many in the early church expected the age to come sooner than it did. “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” By faith, the kingdom is already beating in our hearts. For now, there is the mission to the world — and that must take precedence over any hopes for final parousia in our lifetimes. Sure enough, though, in our following the crucified Lord, that time is also sure to follow, for us all. When I prayed the “Vater Unser” with a former SS man, it was picking up the Cross of Christ, and holding this up to all the unbearable things that people must bear. I also prayed the “Vater Unser” with a woman raped by a Polish Sergeant. All of this, and so many other cases, can vividly portray again the horror stricken and tearful face of Eve, which I saw in a painting in Hawaii, as she viewed the murder of her son, Abel, by her other son, Cain. All of us are losers, and yet in the losing there can be hope for winning. It is our tears at the foot of the Cross that finally and ultimately makes us winners in a kingdom where all tears are wiped away.

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