Sunday, August 28, 2005
Mt. 16:21-27 -- Being an Alter Christus
Those who have been baptized are called "alter Christus", an "other Christ". This aspect of the Christian life is underscored in Mt. 16:21-27. The gospel selection for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) can be divided in the following way:
The statement "Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (v. 24) is actually a statement of the lifestyle of the one who wishes to follow Jesus. The central statement "take up his cross" points forward to the Way of the Cross. As Jesus will be carrying the cross of humiliation and shame, so too the disciple will have to carry his. The two outward statements -- "deny himself ... follow me" -- recalls all the instances when those whom Jesus calls have to leave something of themselves behind. The first four fishermen to be called left behind their nets and boats (in the case of James and John, they also left behind Zebedee, their father, the one who passed on to them their trade as fishermen); the rich young man had to discover that it was not enough to just obey the Mosaic law, he also had to give up his wealth (Mt. 19:16-22, cf. parallels). Given the connection of the statement to the previous one about Jesus' prediction regarding his own future, one is tempted to see here a call to the same process that Jesus will undergo: suffering, death and resurrection. When Jesus says "follow me" one might as well ask, "To where?" The gospel of John will give the answer: "Where I am, there you will also be", that is, to be with Him at the side of the Father. In Matthew Jesus intimates this in verse 27 when he refers to his return as the Son of Man who will render to each one his due.
The Son of Man is the celestial being in Daniel 7:13+ who receives from God all authority, power and kingship. This is the glorious Son of Man who will return as the Groom, King and Master of the House (cf. Matthew 25). He will share with the wise, the faithful and those who cared for the little ones the joy that is His. It is I think within this context that one must understand the statements in vv. 25-26.
Whoever will seek his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul? What can he give in return for his own soul?
Vv. 21-23 is in continuation with the previous story about Peter's confession of the who Jesus is. After Simon Bar-Jona identifies Jesus as "the Messiah (the Christ), Son of the Living God" and gets commended for it, he shows in vv. 21-23 that he has not fully understood Jesus' Messiahship. He, like the Devil in Matthew 4:1f, thought of a Messiah without a Cross. Hence, Jesus calls him by the name "Satan", the Hindrance. Like Peter, the "alter Christus" must give up one's favorite image of Jesus for one that is in conformity with God's mind. In a moment of inspiration, Peter saw Jesus as the Christ, but as a Christ in glory with authority and dominion. He had to learn that that image of Christ will become true only AFTER Jesus has become the Suffering Messiah, obedient only to the Father's word. As the Tempter in Matthew 4:1f learned what Son of God meant, so too must the disciple.