Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed! Peter discovers this in today's Gospel. In last week's Gospel, Jesus praised Peter for his response to the question "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answered brilliantly, "You are God's Anointed One, the Messiah!" But in today's Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer terribly and then be killed. So what does Peter do? Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him: "God forbid! No such thing will ever happen to you!" : at least not on my watch, he may have added. That doesn't set well with Jesus, so Jesus scolds Peter, telling him that Satan is inside him! Once again, Peter is in the doghouse!
Peter is not alone in his inability to grasp the crucifixion of Jesus. Over the first four centuries, there were people who called Jesus' death on the cross a divine mirage. They insisted it never happened because no real God, having the power to prevent it, would allow it. But is that true? Doesn't our own experience tell us that love sometimes may compel us to suffer terribly for someone we love. We do not choose to suffer. We do not prefer to suffer. That would be sick! But we are willing to suffer when we really love someone. Now if human love can rise to this heroic level, surely divine Love can accept crucifixion out of love of us.
In today's Gospel, Jesus says that his disciples must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him. Over the centuries, people have interpreted these words differently. In the early centuries, thousands of Jesus' disciples literally suffered martyrdom, put to death for their faith. In the Middle Ages, it was fashionable to scourge oneself with leaded whips, engage in prolonged fasts almost to the point of starvation, and even mutilate oneself physically.
I don't think this is what Jesus means when he tells us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Jesus never asks us to give up chocolate, desserts or alcohol for Lent. But Jesus does invite us to take up his way of living and loving as our very own. Live simply. Love completely. Jesus' way does not focus on suffering. It focuses on loving God by serving others, by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, comforting the sick, helping neighbors in need, being peacemakers and justice-seekers. That's our vocation as baptized people, as followers of Jesus!
But living and loving as Jesus does, stands in strong opposition to the greed, the selfishness and the systems of exploitation and competition that are all too common today. When we try to live and love as Jesus lived and loved, we experience repercussions from other people; these repercussions are the crosses Jesus invites us to carry in our lives. The crosses may be heavy. But we carry them because it is Jesus, not Satan, who is alive in us. We know that after many trials and errors, Peter learned his lesson well. He died a martyr's death. We may not be called to die as Peter died; but we are called to live and love as Peter lived and loved : as true disciples of God's Anointed One.