Your Chosen Cross

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday’s gospel, Simon Peter was inspired to declare of Jesus, ‘you are the Messiah, you are the Christ,‘ and Jesus affirmed that it was true. Then, immediately following in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the Jewish religious leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter is scandalized by this news. The Messiah is supposed to be our triumphant king! How could the Christ suffer and be killed? Peter has seen Jesus’ powers; like curing the sick, casting out demons, multiplying loaves and fish. The Lord doesn’t have to let anyone get the better of him. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter presumes that he knows better than the Lord. Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (“Satan” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.”) You are [being] an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

God the Father did not prepare an easy life for his beloved Son. That’s what Peter had hoped for, a smooth and easy path to glory. Jesus’ life was marked by joy and sadness, struggles and sacrifice, death and resurrection. Christ’s was not an easy life but a great and glorious life, and Jesus calls you and I to follow him. Jesus says to his disciples, “whoever wishes to save his life (from every trial, hardship, and sacrifice) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake (whoever devotes himself in love and service for me) will find it. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This call included Peter. Notice how Jesus in correcting Peter does not say to him “Depart from me, you accursed,” but rather “Get behind me”; in other words, “Follow me.

In the New Testament, we see that Simon Peter was not perfect. Both before and after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter made mistakes. Yet Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ was a foundation the Lord could build upon. And through a lifetime of providential trials, Simon Peter grew more and more into Christ’s likeness. Peter became the first pope, the first bishop of Rome, and while there, in 64 A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero unleashed a severe persecution of Christians, scapegoating the Church for a six-day fire that devastated Rome in July of that year. One tradition says that Peter, seeing the danger, reasoned that it would be better to flee the persecution so he could continue to lead the Church. However, on his way out of the city, Peter had a vision of Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine, quo vadis,” in Latin.) “I am going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied.

This story comes to us from a late second century text and may or may not be pious legend, but what follows is very firmly known. St. Peter was arrested and condemned to die by crucifixion at Rome. However, Peter did not consider himself worthy to die in the very same manner as our Lord, so he made an unusual request. He asked to be crucified upside down, with his feet toward Heaven and his head toward the earth, and this is what the soldiers did. Peter died, his body was taken down from his cross, and Christians buried him in a grave very close-by. That place, a Roman hill, bears the same name now as it did then: Vatican Hill. The Emperor Constantine built a church over the place in the fourth century, and an even more magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the same site in the 1500’s and stands there to this day.

In the mid-twentieth century, archaeologists uncovered and forensic scientists studied ancient bones from below St. Peter’s, found some sixty feet directly below the main altar. Analysis indicates these bones came from a man between sixty and seventy years old, about five foot seven inches tall; and possessing a robust frame, as we might expect a fisherman to have. These bones were formerly wrapped in a very expensive cloth comprised of gold and purple threads in the pattern of an ancient Roman weave. The skeleton is largely complete but the feet are missing. If the Roman soldiers had no respect for Peter’s remains, it’s easy to imagine them using a sword to hack down his body from the cross, leaving his feet behind, nailed high on the wood. Jesus once declared, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” It appears that Jesus has not only fulfilled his words spiritually, through St. Peter’s faithful life, but has literally built his Church over St. Peter’s bones as well. This is what Jesus did and achieved with a man formerly so flawed and fickle as St. Peter. The Lord would do great things through the transformative trials of our lives as well.

Once upon a time, one night, a Christian had a dream. They were carrying a cross, representing all of their burdens, temptations, and trials, and approached Jesus standing beside a large warehouse. The Christian said, “Lord, my cross is hard to carry. May I exchange it for another?” Jesus invited them inside the warehouse containing millions of crosses of different styles, materials, and sizes. Walking the aisles, the Christian sees an attractive, short cross with straight edges and flat sides made of pure gold. Gold is extremely heavy, about ten times denser than brick, so the Christian was not strong enough to lift it up. Going further on, there was a beautiful, tall and thin cross made entirely of diamonds. Now diamonds are very hard; they are sometimes employed at the tips of drill bits because they are harder than pretty much anything else. The Christian could lift this cross, but it poked and gnawed and cut into one’s palms and shoulder, so it was set down again. Circling back, the Christian saw a wooden cross of head-height leaning against the wall. Its sides were uneven but wear had smoothed them. It was not light, but not too heavy to carry. It was a simple cross, but a noble one. The Christian returned to Jesus and said, “This is the cross I’d like to carry.” And Jesus replied, “That’s the cross you came here with.

Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

One Response to “Your Chosen Cross”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    I also note that having followed Jesus & experienced the revelation of the Father is no guarantee against being sucked in by the deception of the enemy. There is no resting nor rising on our laurels, but a constant need to follow Jesus attentively.

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