From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”. (Matthew 16:21-27 – NRSV)
This text from Matthew is clearly borrowed from Mark 8:31-9:1. Luke too has borrowed from Mark – see Luke 9:21-27. Luke omits Peter’s intervention and Jesus’ rebuke of him.
For a note on the reading of the first paragraph of this text as the second part of the text in which Jesus affirms Peter as “the rock” and the one through the Father speaks, click here.
We have here one of three predictions of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection in Matthew – the other two are found in 17:21f and 20:18f. It seems that the prediction of the resurrection is completely hidden by the shocking prediction of the passion and death.
Concerning the “necessity” of this, one author writes: “Bonnard remarks that this verb does not point us to ‘the individual or heroic determination of Jesus, nor to the increasing opposition
of his enemies, very real though that was, nor to a blind fate, nor to the arbitrary inscrutability of a distant divinity, nor to the psychological or religious needs of the Jews or of men in general, but to a plan of God, certainly impenetrable for unbelievers, but perceptible to faith …'” (L Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, W.B. Eerdmans 1992, 247)
Matthew has Jesus’s ministry centred in Galilee until this point. He must now go to Jerusalem.
The highest juridical authority – “the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes” – will condemn Jesus and put him to death. There are two stark truths the disciples learn in this moment: Firstly, the Messiah is not a gloriously triumphant political figure but an oppressed, tortured and ultimately executed figure; secondly those who represent the people in learning and teaching concerning the nature of God’s dealings in the Covenant are the very ones who will oppress, torture and ultimately execute the Anointed One.
Who am I? Who are you? Identity is crucial to our sense of wellbeing.
Jesus has just asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” The question carries a secondary question: Who are you? If they are disciples, this question is also about them. Their identity is intimately linked to his identity.
If someone asks, “Who are you?” there is more than one way you can reasonably respond: “I am Bill and Mary’s daughter” or “I am Italian” or “I am an engineer” and so on. Such responses say something real but none of them or even all of them together, say all there is to say about who you are. Your true identity is not found in your family name or family connections, in your ethnicity or your job or any other such categorization.
The former Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, wrote in his journal: “At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many ‘I’s’. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one – which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your ‘I’.” (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Alfred A. Knopf, 1964, 19)
The excluding of “all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed” is a dying. It is a “cross”. But it is necessary if your are to become who you are.
Your true identity is found in God and only in God. The more deeply you become who you are the more freely you will participate in your world. Grounded beyond family, beyond, ethnicity, beyond culture, beyond all human inventions, you will be free to relate honestly, constructively and compassionately with family, ethnicity, culture and any other human invention. But that freedom is born of suffering and death.