Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

There is a story about some people carrying their crosses; each person had a designated track, just as sprinters ran on their respective tracks. One man struggled with his cross because it was heavier and longer than the others in the neighboring tracks.

Dissatisfied and frustrated, he complained to the Lord that the cross was too heavy and long. Responding, the Lord encouraged him to hold on to his cross and continue the journey, but he would not listen.

“What do you want to do with your cross? The Lord asked. The man responded, “Lord, I want to shape it to reduce the weight and cut it shorter.” That was his choice.

As if planned, another man showed up with a saw and a smoothing plane, and the man called out to him to borrow the implements. The passing man was more willing and generous even to help him reduce the weight and size of the cross.

When the man got back on track, his movement became easier and faster until he got to a point where he saw a gully on his path, and the only way to cross was to place his cross over the valley.

Unfortunately, his cross could not cover the parallel ground ahead of him; besides, it was no longer strong enough to carry his weight. Meanwhile, he discovered each person’s cross fit the gully facing them except him. Then the Lord told him, “You need to return and take your exact cross; every cross serves a purpose. It was heavy and long to help you cross the valley!”

The Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Matt. 16:21-27) could be described as the “Gospel of Cross.” The narrative began with our Lord disclosing that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer greatly and die, according to the plans of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. However, he added that he would rise on the third day.

The ever-spontaneous Simon Peter interrupted the Lord’s speech saying, “God forbid Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” At face value, Peter seemed to be doing the needful thing, “who would like his master to suffer and die?’

The Lord’s response, which could have shocked everyone, showed Peter was gravely out of alignment. Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do”. We should remember two important elements here: Satan and human beings (that is, the world).

Drawing from the encounter with Peter, 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”.

Exploring the Cross

The truest way to describe what happened in the narrative is the devil’s attempt to discourage Jesus from carrying his cross using Peter as a channel. The quick lesson is that the devil constantly uses people and things close to sponsor his dissuading antics.

Peter received the Lord’s commendation last Sunday for declaring him the Messiah, Son of the Living God, through divine revelation. But the statement here contradicts that declaration. No thanks to Satan, whose curriculum opposes whatever God says, starting from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:4-5).

Being the Messiah is not just by name but by the exclusive work of redemption, which includes suffering and death. The prophet Isaiah (53:5-12) captured this in describing the activities of the suffering Messiah whose wounds will bring healing and whose death will save many.

We can see here that before our Lord Jesus Christ recommended the cross to his disciples, who would like to come after him, he had already secured his own by prophecy, which would also be fulfilled after his arrest.  

The Obstacles to the Cross

 Recall that our Lord Jesus 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”. Furthermore, while recommending carrying the cross, he first said, “Deny yourself.” So, three obstacles are open regarding carrying the cross:

Self: We can become hindrances to ourselves, and this has a lot to do with the choices we make in life. We are as good or bad as our choices in life. It all begins in our minds.

In the Second Reading (Romans 12:1-2), St. Paul said, among other things, that we should be transformed by the renewal of our minds to discern the will of God, what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Without self-denial, which should be an intentional right setting of the mind, carrying the cross will be impossible. Self-denial comes specifically by setting our minds on the things of the spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:5).

The World: In the Gospel narrative, Jesus said to Peter, you do not think as God does but as human beings, in other words, the world. St. Paul made this clearer in the Second Reading, where he said. “Do not conform yourself to this age” or “to the pattern of this world” in another. Translation.

The pattern of the world is compromise, convenience, and a “everybody is doing it” mentality. The world will tell you that the cross is too burdensome for you; leave it and enjoy your life. St. John warns us (1 John 2:15), “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world”.

Many people have dropped their crosses a few steps to their desired destination because of what people say. The truth is that people will never stop saying things, even when it is not necessary. So, what matters is what God says.

Satan: All thanks to our Lord Jesus for giving us the idea that Satan spoke through Peter, whom he rebuked immediately. If our opening story were cast in a movie format, we would probably see that the man with a saw and smoothing plane who showed up to help the man cut his cross came from Satan.

Just as God would send Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry the cross, Satan also orchestrates situations that could warrant one to drop the cross. Recall that our Lord Jesus made it clear that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a), and be sure that he would not like you to carry that cross of the crown at the end of the Journey.

Moving Forward: Carry Your Cross

It may be a struggle to deny yourself but do it. Taking up your cross may not be easy, but you need to. Following the Lord may not be convenient, but that is the only way to eternal life.

If you are wondering what your cross could be, it could be that unsettling situation in your life that you cannot change. It could be your health challenge or that hurting relationship with your spouse, children, or colleagues. It could also be someone or something you need to endure. Remember, the cross will never crush you; it will transform you!

Know that the cross is not just a burden but a plus sign, a ladder to climb spiritually, and a warfare device. Any other time you see the word CROSS, take it as an acronym saying Christ and Overcoming Satan and Setbacks! So, you know why you need your CROSS.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.   

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