Dear friends. The world of advertising is fascinating. Every year, companies spend millions on trying to convince us that we need the product they are selling. If you observe closely how they do this, a key strategy is to appeal to a less disciplined life as a way to greater contentment. If we have this or that, then life will be easier and we will be happier. This is the key to their commercial success.
If Jesus wanted to advertise Christianity as an attractive way of life, he could not have chosen more ill-suited words than he does in the Gospel today. Instead of promoting a way of life free from discipline that avoids inconvenience and suffering, he asks his followers to renounce themselves take up crosses and follow him. Instead of promoting an easier way of life that might appeal to people, he speaks of losing your life and giving it away. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the wisdom of the age and Jesus’ teaching. Little wonder that Peter saw this wisdom as political suicide and tries to persuade Jesus to change his mind and conform to a more acceptable position.
Jesus’ response to Peter was swift and frank. ‘Get behind me Satan!’ were words of rebuke but were more than that. What Jesus was saying to Peter was this: ‘I know that you believe in me but you must learn to follow me, not go ahead of me. You must conform yourself to my way and not conform me to your way. Your way of thinking is that in order to grow and become successful, you must avoid discipline, self-sacrifice, suffering and the cross. But this is man’s way of thinking, not mine. My way and the way I walk involves discipline, sacrifice, suffering and the cross. It has to be like this. For unless you embrace a life of self-sacrifice and give yourself away then you will not have the joy for which you long. You and all who hear these words are called to share in my cross so that you may also share in my resurrection’.
How often have we thought like Peter? How often have we tried to persuade God to get into our world instead of us getting into his? How often have we rushed ahead of Jesus on the way and made our own plans first instead of humbly and prayerfully asking God to reveal his plans for us? How often have we tried to avoid sacrifice and the discipline of following the Lord only to become frustrated by not being as happy as we would like and feeling disappointed that the happiness that was promised us by a less disciplined way of life has not materialised?
Everyone who has ever achieved anything in life will tell you that leading a life of discipline is essential. If you take away discipline you will never grow. By trying to avoid discipline and save your life, you might lose it. If we are to take our calling seriously to follow the Lord and live the Gospel then there is no avoiding or evading the cross. We must go through it. Don’t get me wrong. When I have a headache I reach for a paracetamol. If we can avoid this kind of suffering we will. But this is not what Jesus is talking about. Taking up our cross every day means that in order to live a life of loving service, faithfulness and commitment to anyone or anything greater than ourselves, then there is a price to pay. There is a cost. But when we consider the joy that flows from being united to Christ and doing his will then our sacrifices and crosses can become the way to a life of deeper contentment and peace.
It is the work of Satan to convince us that in order to have this contentment and peace then we can avoid discipline, self-sacrifice and the cross. We can have everything, at no cost. This was the argument of Peter today. But unlike the world of advertising that tells us what we want to hear, Jesus and his Gospel tells us what we need to hear. Taking up our cross is an invitation to enter into Jesus’ world of self-sacrificing love. It is his way that he marks out for us, goes ahead of us and asks us to follow. Let us stay on this path for it leads to life.