“Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” Matthew 16:21-27
By Deacon Tom Westerkamp
I love the passion of Peter in today’s gospel when Jesus proclaims that He was going to die. You can almost hear Peter say, “no way, Lord, that’s not going to happen, not on my watch.” Peter had gotten to know Jesus in the three years of His public ministry, and Peter had witnessed many unbelievable miracles, and had become a good friend of Jesus. Although maybe not a born leader, Peter has assumed the role of leader of the Apostles, and no doubt felt he had a responsibility to protect the mild-mannered and compassionate Jesus from any potential harm that might cause His death.
Peter doesn’t understand the big picture here. Jesus knew His objective on earth because He was fully human, and fully Divine. Jesus knew he was to live as a human, and experience all the emotions and feelings that we experience. Jesus knew, and accepted, the horrible suffering and death that He knew was coming His way. This was an incredible gift to all of us sinners. Jesus was to die for each and every one of us. Jesus was trying to prepare His Apostles for that, and teach them what they would need to do in order to experience everlasting life.
Jesus tells the apostles, and us, that we must deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Jesus, if we want to be with Him again in heaven. That may be hard to understand and accept. We live in a nice suburban community, many of us are not used to denying ourselves, and who really wants to take up a cross?
This virus this year has impacted the world, and each of us, in a profound way. Each of our lives has been affected. Many of us have suffered financially because of the pandemic. Many of us have known family members or friends that were infected or died. Many of us know healthcare workers on the front line, caring for infected patients, incredibly brave and dedicated professionals, some of whom have become sick themselves.
Places of worship around the world have changed in ways that few could ever have imagined. We see that first hand here at Saint Anne. Our parish staff and dedicated volunteers have worked hard to re-open our shuttered campus after months of isolation. They have put themselves out, they have denied themselves, they have taken up their cross.
It seems to me that this viral pandemic has forced each one of us to deny ourselves. Each of us has had our lives impacted. During the quarantine, we have all done without certain activities, like dining out, going to plays or movies, celebrating graduations, visiting with family and friends, traveling. So many establishments and businesses have been forced to close, so many people have lost their jobs. We have all been forced to do without.
Maybe we can learn from this drastic change in our behavior. Maybe we can learn to do without, just a little bit more. Maybe we can support our parish or some other deserving charity just a little more than we have. Do a little bit more for someone else. Help someone in need. Helping others is one way of taking up our cross and following Jesus. Helping others is what Jesus did. Helping others is what the apostles were called to do. Helping others is what we are all called to do.
If we want to achieve everlasting life in heaven, we must follow Jesus. We have to treat others the way we want to be treated, just like Jesus did. If we want to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him. He tells us what we are supposed to do. He tells us how we are supposed to treat our neighbors, all neighbors, and people in need. Jesus said we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.
Good advice for the apostles 2000 years ago…good advice for us today.