Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:21-27
Growing up I was a very spiritual kid and teenager. I spent an hour in prayer every night throughout my teens, frequently made myself late to school because I couldn’t get my head out of the Bible in the morning, and regularly would attend 3 or even 4 Masses and worship services each Sunday because I just couldn’t get enough of God! With all that thought about God, I didn’t give much thought to Satan. But one night I felt the presence of something truly evil surrounding me. I’ll never forget it. I immediately ran to my bed, put my hand on top of my Bible and began praying the Our Father. And then I audibly prayed the evil away. Get behind me Satan, get away. You’re not wanted here. I am God’s. I will never be yours.
When I read today’s Gospel, I’m surprised and challenged by what it is that Jesus equates with evil or Satan – comfort. Jesus tells how he will have to suffer and Peter is not a fan of this idea. Suffering? Naw, that’s never a fun idea. Let’s just skip that part. Jesus’ response? Get behind me, Satan. He goes on to say that if you will be his disciples, his followers, his students, his Christians, you’ll have to suffer. You’ll have to give up the comfort of living your dream life to follow Him.
And that’s where it gets tough. Cause didn’t we all have expectations for how our life would go? Think about being a child and what you expected your life would be as you grew up. My gut says you never thought, “I can’t wait to grow up and suffer to follow Jesus. I can’t wait to deny myself and to lose my dream life so I can follow Him.” Nope. We dreamt of becoming famous, of getting married, of having kids and grandkids, a picture perfect family gathered around the table at each holiday, growing old with our spouse, buying a beach home, driving that Ferrari around town, becoming the CEO. And while many of us have reached our goals and have our dream life, many of us are left wondering where it all went wrong.
I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of men and women who are nearing the end of their lives and I’m learning that a lot of them are not so happy with how their lives turned out. They are upset that their kids left the Catholic faith. They mourn the loss of the spouse they expected to have until their death. They grieve the loss of their values as they chased the corporate ladder of their younger years. They are sad that they do not have a closer relationship with their kids who moved away. Setting unrealistic expectations can be truly debilitating. Disney isn’t real and neither is the romance novel you picked up on the bookshelf. But Jesus is. And he’s asked us to give up our lives to follow Him, to lose our lives. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. And that means that day-by-day, we need to choose to lose the life we thought we’d have. We need to set aside those unrealistic and unhealthy expectations and instead choose to consecrate our days to Him.
This Sunday’s New Testament reading says it so perfectly:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
I love that. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. We don’t exercise self-control in our mind enough. When I see that beautiful home down the street, do I let my mind wander? “Oh I wish I could live there instead…” When I see a picture perfect family on facebook, do I allow my mind to take off running? “If only MY family could be that happy.” When I talk to my friends who seem to just have good thing after good thing happening in their life, do I wallow in jealousy? “Why does all the bad stuff happen to ME?!” Or do I choose to hear God’s words? Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
In all honesty, this is a struggle for me. I tend to compare myself to others rather than compare myself to the commands of Jesus. If I see other Christians living the ‘good life’, my response is always, “God, if they don’t have to pick up their cross, why do I?!” And I’m sure others say the same about my life! It’s a downward spiral of comparison for all of us that only leads to a life of selfishness. But if I stop to listen, I can hear the reminder. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Become single minded. Stay focused. Stop comparing. Continually offer yourself as a living sacrifice every day. And so this week, when my brain begins to ‘go there’ as I compare my life to others, I will speak those words Jesus quoted so long ago and I repeated as a young child, “Get behind me, Satan. My life belongs to God.”