Take up his cross and follow me
Comments on Matthew 16:21-27
Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’
Homily by Benedict XVI, Angelus, August 28, 2011 Full Text
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's Gospel Jesus explains to his disciples that he must "go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Mt 16:21).
Everything seems to have been turned upside down in the disciples' hearts! How could "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 16) suffer and be killed? The Apostle Peter rebels, he refuses to accept this route, he begins to rebuke the Teacher and says to him: "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (v. 22). The divergence between the Father's loving plan — which even went as far as the gift of the Only-Begotten Son on the cross to save humanity — and the disciples' expectations, wishes and projects stands out clearly. And today too this contrast is repeated: when the fulfilment of one's life is geared solely to social success and to physical and financial well-being, one no longer reasons according to God but according to men (v. 23)
Thinking as the world thinks is setting God aside, not accepting his plan of love, preventing him, as it were, from doing his wise will. For this reason Jesus says some particularly harsh words to Peter: "Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me" (ibid.). The Lord interprets "this 'following' him [walking behind him] on the way of the Cross from an essentially anthropological standpoint: it is the indispensable way for man to 'lose his life', without which it is impossible for him to find it..." (Jesus of Nazareth, English edition, New York, p. 287).
Just as he invited the disciples, Jesus also addresses an invitation to us: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24). A Christian follows the Lord when he accepts lovingly his own cross, which in the world's eyes seems a defeat and a "loss of life" (cf. vv. 25-26), knowing that he is not carrying it alone but with Jesus, sharing his same journey of self-giving.
The Servant of God Paul vi wrote: "In a mysterious way, Christ himself accepts death... on the cross, in order to eradicate from man's heart the sins of self-sufficiency and to manifest to the Father a complete filial obedience" (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino, 9 May 1975). By willingly accepting death, Jesus carries the cross of all human beings and becomes a source of salvation for the whole of humanity.
St Cyril of Jerusalem commented: "The glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin and brought redemption to the whole world of mankind" (Catechesis Illuminandorum XIII,1: de Christo crucifixo et sepulto: pg 33, 772 b).
Dear friends, Let us entrust our prayers to the Virgin Mary and also to St Augustine whose Memorial is today, so that each one of us may be able to follow the Lord on the way of the cross and let ourselves be transformed by divine grace, renewing — as St Paul says in the liturgy today — our minds so that we "may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).