Cycle (A) 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jer 20:7-9; Rm 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-28

One of the very important events in the history of struggle for Indian independence was the Historical Salt March. During the British Colonialism in India the British Salt Tax rule was imposed, making it illegal to sell or produce salt. Gandhiji saw it as an injustice to the people of India. Gandhiji decided to protest against it. He decided to lead 78 people through 240 mile journey from his Ashram to the coastal village of Dandi, Gujarat, on 12 March 1930.  It involved high risk. Hence, veteran politicians, and experienced leaders warned
Gandhi about its consequences and tried to dissuade him. But, Gandhiji was determined. Thousands of Indians, inspired by his non-violent
demonstration and strong will joined him on his march to the sea. It is a common experience that people try to be in their comfort zone, and try to dissuade
those who struggle to come out of it. Because it involves risk; it means daring into the unknown; it brings a lot of challenges, and it causes suffering.

In today’s Gospel Jesus shows 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. The Apostles could not accept it. This revelation was contrary to their concept of Messiah as a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. They had been brought up with the idea of Messiah of power and glory and conquest. To them the idea of a suffering Messiah the connection of a cross with the work of the Messiah was incredible. Hence Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.' But 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.’

Jesus faced the crucial temptation at the beginning of his public life. The temptation followed him throughout his life. At every crucial point of his life it came back in different forms. And here Peter is offering it to him now. Peter was urging upon him the very things which the tempter was always whispering to him. Peter was confronting Jesus with that way of escape from the Cross. The fact that it came from the one who loved him, made the temptation more acute.

There is an old Chinese folktale about a young Chinese maiden, Mulan, who learns that her weakened and lame father is to be called up into the army in order to fight the invading Huns. Knowing that he would never survive the rigours of war in his state, she decides to disguise herself and join in his place. Unknown to her, her ancestors are aware of this and to prevent it, they order a tiny disgraced dragon, Mushu to join her in order to force her to abandon her plan. He agrees, but when he meets Mulan, he learns that she cannot be dissuaded. She has decided to risk everything in order to save China. Hence he also decides to help her in the perilous times ahead.

Just like Mulan’s ancestors tried to dissuade her from her noble attempt, there are times when fond love seeks to deflect us from the perils of the path of God. But the real love is not the love that holds a soldier back for fear of war, but the love that sends him out to obey the commandments of chivalry.  The real love does not seek to make life easy, but to make life great.

When a bud goes through the pain of bursting, it is transformed into a beautiful flower.  When a pupa struggles out of a cocoon, it is transformed into a charming butterfly. When a chicken breaks the shell and comes out it becomes a lovely bird.  When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. When we undergo the suffering and pain of life we get strengthened.  Arthur Golden reminds us that “Adversity is like a strong wind.  It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”  (Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha) St Paul wrote:  “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges.  “A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.”  

Jesus confronting the disciples with the challenges of Christian life, in today’s Gospel. There are three things which a man must be prepared to do, if he is to live the Christian life. First he must deny himself. He must take up his cross. He must follow Jesus Christ. To do this we must be able to accept challenges and take risk in life.

Jesus asserts emphatically, “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it. The man who plays for safety loses life. If we meet life in the constant search for safety, security, ease and comfort we are losing all that makes life worthwhile. If our decisions are taken from worldly-wise and prudential motives, we are losing the focus of life; and our life becomes selfish and earth bound.

Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behaviour modernity around 50,000 years ago.  Ever since millions of human beings existed on the face of the earth and disappeared into oblivion. In January 2011, the human population was estimated to be about 6.94 billion. But how many of the people who occupied the earth before us are remembered. A few people. A Socrates, a Moses, a Buddha, a Jesus, a Gandhiji, a Mother Theresa and so on. We remember them because they made their life radiant with service; they made their life reaching for the stars, instead of keeping it earth bound. They rook risk in their lives.

It is simple lesson of history that it has always been the adventurous people, who were able to write their names on history because they ignored their safety and security. They helped the world to change. They helped the world to grow. They helped the world to invent new things. Unless there had been those prepared to take risks, many a medical cure would not exist. Unless there had been people prepared to take risks, many machines that make life easier would never have been invented. Unless there have been mothers prepared to take risk no child would have been born. The world is made a better place to live by the people who are prepared to take risk.

We, too, can achieve it.  Sacrifice a little time and pleasure to do something greater. Give up the comfort of home, to visit an ailing man in the village. Sacrifice the joy of watching a movie, to help a poor student to get her books. Give up the pleasure of a chat with the friends to render a little service in the church. Ignore the pride of replacing the present decent TV with the latest available one, to help a homeless man build a home. Accept the pain of donating a little blood to save a life. Like this we can find hundreds of ways to make our life meaningful and worthwhile.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Christian life is the sacrificial life. When we practice little acts of kindness we are writing our name in the history of time. We will be remembered by many even after our departure from this world. Let us listen to the teaching of Jesus, “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” Amen