There is an ancient legend about Saint Peter, which became the basis for a famous book and motion picture. At the time of the great persecution under Nero, the Christians of Rome asked Peter to leave and find his safety! Peter hurried out of town as fast as he could. On the Appian Way, he met Jesus Christ who was going toward Rome. Peter asked him in Latin, "Quo vadis, Domine?" "Where are you going, Lord?" To which Jesus replied, "Back to Rome, to be crucified with my people. Jesus asked peter, Where are you going, Peter?" Peter realized that he is running away from suffering. He turned and walked back to Rome, where, according to tradition, he was crucified head downward, feeling that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as had his Lord. Jesus' question to Peter comes to us also. "Where are you going?"
And this question must echo in our lives as we hear the Gospel today. Where are you going? We may be going away from God and we may be running away from Cross and suffering.
If you remember last week Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples who Do you say that I am? Peter says, Jesus you are the Messiah, the Son of God. And Jesus was happy and told Peter, you are the rock up on which I will build my Church. In today’s Gospel, Jesus realized that although he taught about suffering, his disciples were not attentive on his class. They were thinking of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. Peter got a bad grade from Jesus for not understanding the idea of a suffering Messiah. It was then that Jesus rebuked him, "Get behind me, Satan,”
I do not know about you but many times I am like Peter. I do not see the things in the way God wants to see, but things in the way I want to see. Like Peter, I too miss Jesus' mission sometimes. I fail to see God in my sufferings. What I like about this story is God still loves Peter. Who Jesus called go behind Satan later leads the church. It's amazing story.
After correcting Peter, Jesus declares three conditions for his disciples: 1) deny yourself 2) take up your cross and 3) follow me.
1) To “deny” yourself means to say “No” to yourself and “Yes” to God. Someone hurts us, our natural reaction is to lash back, to get angry. But the path of discipleship is “not my will but yours.” It is humbly submitting my will to God’s will. Instead of getting angry, we realize that God is calling us to forgive even our enemies. When Jesus was praying in the garden, he said to God his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” It is what millions of Christians have prayed for centuries when they repeat what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.” “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”( Matthew 6:10).
2) Carrying the cross means, follow him during the trial and suffering. Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. I remember a story after an earthquake in India years ago. A survivor was asked, are you sad about the situation? He said, I am not sad, God gave my life back to save people who are trapped inside buildings. He was following the Cross in his suffering. He was turning his suffering into love.
Remember, many saints struggled with Cross, they gave up, but they took energy again to Carey the Cross. We may be running away from the Cross and life of discipleship. The story of peter gives us energy that God, with his grace, we can change our lives. God can transform our weakness into strength. Even when I mess up, God can still use me. God can be glorified even if we are week.
Finally Jesus asks- Follow Me!” Jesus said these words to 12 men, 2,000 years ago .... and it changed the world! Today, you are given the same invitation: “Follow Me. Following Jesus means that, as disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus' commandment of love 24/7. The decision to follow Jesus can change the world.
Fr. John Pozhathuparambil