Jer 20: 7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27
Daughter (8): Is Aunty Diane having her baby today? Mother: Why did you think she is about to give birth? Daughter (8): Because you said today was Labour Day!
A dairy farmer went to buy a new pickup truck. He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the paper?” The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.
A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read: Basic cow $500 Two-tone exterior $45 Extra stomach $75 Milk storage compartment $60 Straw recycle compartment $120 Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40 Leather upholstery $125 Dual horns $45 Automatic rear fly swatter $38 Natural fertilizer attachment $185 GRAND TOTAL $1233
Dear Friends! Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.”
Our first reading from Jeremiah goes back to 600 B.C. It sounds as if Jeremiah thought that when God called him to be a prophet, it would be an easy job. But the people who heard God’s message only hated Jeremiah for what he preached. They ridiculed him, threw him in jail and even tried to kill him. We hear him complaining to God, “You duped me! You Tricked me, God!” Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission would bring him suffering too, but Jesus did not complain or feel duped. He was well aware of what was going to happen. In today’s gospel, we hear him warning his disciples ahead of time.
Today’s gospel when Jesus said, he would suffer greatly, be killed and on the third day be raised, Peter objected. He didn’t want to hear any of that negative stuff. Jesus refused to back down from Peter’s objections. On the contrary, Jesus predicted suffering for his followers too, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
The cross, whether it was a wooden one as it was for Jesus, or some other form of martyrdom, has been real for many of Christ’s followers throughout the centuries. The Cross for Christians in Iraq and in Middle East is more than the cross we face daily here. For those like us who are not in immediate cross involved the day to day effort to overcome our selfishness and to love God with our whole heart and soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The cross for most of us as St. Paul says in the second reading today, “offering ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”
Of course! One thing we need to understand. Jesus isn’t saying that we all should suffer and not have a good life. Suffering for its own sake is never any good. It’s a reasonable thing to do what we can to try to alleviate it. But there are some crosses, some sufferings we cannot avoid. They are part of our journey to God. There are also those crosses we may have to bear that are part of our responsibility or our vocation of caring for others, crosses that sometimes parents have to endure or religious or missionaries or adult children of aged parents, or they are the crosses that are part of our jobs; those are the crosses that bring us closer to our Lord who carried a cross for us.
If we are a young person who dreamed of making the basketball team but got cut, we should pick up our cross and follow Jesus. He can lead us to a far richer life. If we are an older person who dreamed of being a success in business, of having the world’s greatest family, or of having the world’s greatest marriage, but ended up having none of these, we should pick up our cross and follow Jesus. He can mend our broken dreams and lead us to a renewed appreciation of life that we never dreamed possible.
All this, however, still doesn’t explain the mystery of misfortune. In the end, all we may be able to do when it strikes is trust in Jesus who says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”