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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

My dear encountered couples:

A nun was explaining the Stations of the Cross to her class. They got to the fourth Station were Jesus on the road to Calvary meets his mother. The nun explained that even though they could not talk to each other, mother and son spoke just using their eyes. “What do you think they said to each other?” she asked the pupils.

The class gave many different answers. One kid suggested that she said, “This is unfair.” Another kid suggested that she said, “Why me?”

Finally, a sickly little girl raised her thin hand, got up and said: “Sister, I know what the Blessed Mother told Jesus. She said to him, ‘Keep on going, Jesus!’” Why would a mother encourage her only son on the way to crucifixion to keep on going? Well, because the mother understands the Christian principle of “no cross, no crown.”

Last Sunday we read of Simon Peter recognizing and confessing Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. That demonstration of faith earned him the name Peter, “Rock.” The incident was a highpoint in the development of the mission of Jesus. “From that time on, 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”

Popular Jewish belief at the time of Jesus expected a Messiah who would bring instant glory to Israel in terms of military success, wealth and prosperity. And the disciples shared this popular belief.

So, when Peter heard Jesus announce that he must first endure the cross, he figured that Jesus must have made a mistake. He then “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

Peter was asking Jesus to abandon the narrow and hard way of the Messiah (“no cross, no crown”) for the broad and easy way of the World (all crown and no cross).

And, although Jesus had called him Rock a few moments back, Jesus now looks Peter in the face and says to him, “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” (verse 23).

The gospel of Christ is a coin with two sides: the cross and the crown. If we try to embrace one side, the glorious side, and reject the other, the suffering side, we falsify the gospel. The same Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) also said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

Do we come to Jesus then to be freed from our burdens or do we come to Jesus to take on the cross? We come to Jesus to be freed from our meaningless and futile burdens and, in its place, take on the cross that leads to salvation and glory.

Today’s gospel challenges us to say no to the very attractive but one-sided worldly gospel of instant glory, a sugar-coated gospel that offers the false promise of “all crown and no cross.”

Did you ever hear it on the television: “Only believe and everything will go well with you?” It did not all go well with Jesus; he still had to endure the cross. It did not all go well with Mary; a sword of sorrow still pierced her soul. It did not all go well with the countless men and women saints who have gone before us. Why then should it all go well with you and me?

In the face of disappointment, bereavement, sickness, ingratitude and failure, our faith response should be, not to question “Why me?” but to recognize that these crosses and contradictions are the necessary condition for our future glory. The world is the place for the cross. The place for the crown is heaven.

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