August 29-30: Preparing for Sunday’s Mass

Only a week ago, we heard St. Peter making a profound statement of belief that Jesus is the Messiah. But, as is often the case with St. Peter, he got the words right, but not the meaning of those words. This moment in Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16,21-27) is a turning point in the whole of the Gospel. Now begins an instruction period, a time of formation and preparation for St. Peter, the Apostles, and anyone else who wants to get to Jerusalem; but the Jerusalem Jesus is headed for is the right hand of His Father. Jesus is going to show them where He is headed, and then He will show them how to get there.
Many of Jesus’ earliest followers wanted a return of the “good old days,” like it was when David was King. If we translate their idea into today’s political talk, we could say that they wanted to “make Israel great again.” But Jesus knows that Israel wasn’t all that great, and what we hear from the prophet Jeremiah today (Jer. 20,7-9) reveals that truth. There was corruption, oppression, and infidelity rampant at the time, and Jeremiah spoke up against it.
What Jesus will show us in the remaining half of the Gospel is that making Israel great again will be the consequence of sacrifice and service that puts other’s needs ahead of our own. What makes for greatness is not law and order, which is what the Scribes and Pharisees were always after, but love. It is love that leads us home. It is love that heals. It is love that forgives. It is love that is most fully demonstrated at the Cross. Over the next several weeks and, again, until the end of the Gospel, we will find that anyone going to Jerusalem with Jesus is in for serious business. We do not seek suffering, nor did He, but it will inevitably be part of our lives just as it was for Him.
The lesson which St. Peter and the others had to learn is the same lesson waiting for us: all of this begins with little things. There are all kinds of things in life we don’t like doing, but which we know we have to do if we want to be faithful to our responsibilities and obligations. Sacrifice is not an easy road, but it is the way that our best self takes shape. This how one becomes a person of character and integrity. And, paradoxically, this also the road to happiness. Our happiness does not lie in doing our own thing or what we feel like doing, but in doing what we have to out love for another.

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