A Reflection on Matthew 16.21-28

by Michael Ellard

Over the past few weeks, the theme of our readings from Matthew’s Gospel has been on ‘discipleship’, with its exploration of its development in ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, and what it means to be that disciple in Christ in our daily life.

Today, Jesus lays the consequences of such discipleship firmly before us as he says, ‘If anyone would follow me, then first he must deny himself and take up his own cross’. In this statement Jesus brings the context of Christian life with the relationship to God, His Father, to centre stage, alongside his rebuke to Peter.

It is perhaps rather difficult to understand that rebuke at first, for Jesus has only just finished praising Peter for being the only disciple to understand who He really was, and Jesus has declared to all the disciples

that it is on Peter that his future church will be built, the rock, the foundation stone of the church in Christ to come.

Yet if Peter is to be that ‘foundation stone’ he, above all, will need to understand that what may appeared to him an obvious course of action, may not be the course of action God wishes him to take or to have implemented.

It was Lewis Carroll writing ‘Alice through the looking glass’ who created a world that was a mirror image to the one we are all familiar with. In his world of make believe, it was no good walking towards something when you wanted to get closer to it, for you only found yourself getting further away. No wonder Alice became confused, rather as Peter surely finds himself now.

It takes a sustained mental effort to imagine all our daily activities turned into a mirror image of all you intended to take place, yet this is the journey Jesus is taking us on through the passage we hear today. He is about to travel to the heart of Jerusalem where He already knows the outcome will be in His own death, yet it is only through obeying His Father that the scriptures of the Old Testament will be fulfilled, and in this He will become the gateway to an eternal life for all who wish to follow Him.

If we are to do this in our own lives, then all we see and understand in a secular life, will appear to be turned upside down, and rather like Alice’s world, our discipleship has to operate on many different plains simultaneously with people yet to know or accept Christ in their own. We will encounter those who oppose our beliefs and our motives, and there will be difficulties and many challenges on the way.

To allow Peter to spare Jesus from the suffering He was to endure, would have been to pervert that way of His Father, and this would have become a stumbling block to both Jesus, just as Satan had tried to do in the stories of the Temptation, and to Peter, and then for us all.

Discipleship though, is not set out to be one of suffering, it is that living out of Christ’s values on a daily basis in our lives and with those we encounter, and we remind ourselves that life is for the majority of us a mixture of light and dark, of joy as well as times of sorrow, and there will be those times of loss, and of sickness.

In following Jesus and picking up our own cross as He explains, it is not the suffering we sometimes encounter that is key, it is the opening up of ourselves to all the aspects of God’s nature, and allowing this to work within us that is the important factor. Sometimes that process will be difficult, but it will also be a healing and transforming one. In going to his own death Jesus knows that his actions will be transformative, for it will eventually change the way in which his disciples see the world. Instead of despair, there should be, and will be hope, instead of destruction through Roman occupation, there will be a positive outcome over the seemingly impossible. Minds and attitudes will be changed towards one another in positive ways and Christianity will become established around them, as it has in our world today.

Although we may have to learn, Like Alice to see the world in a reflected form, if we can, then we begin to get an idea of what discipleship in Jesus really is to mean. Jesus said to Peter, ‘You do not have the mind of God’ and we remind ourselves that neither do we when we sometimes find it difficult to understand the ways that God takes us through life.

We may have to die to the life of a secular world if we are to truly follow Jesus, but what we gain will be something far greater, it will be a life that is to be everlasting, both now in all we leave in this world through our individual actions, and then in what we go forward into when we can no longer be a part of this world.