RCL Year A Proper 17 Alternate Readings
Jeremiah 15:15-21, Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21, Saint Matthew 16:21-28

If we were to fall into another Dark Age, with the loss of libraries, texts, and scholarship, and if the eight verses which comprise today’s Gospel alone of all the Holy Scriptures were left, we would have an essential kernel that would guide us to an accurate understanding of the whole of Christianity.

For all of it is here. The Gospel is commonly called the First Prediction of Jesus’ Passion. To put it into its context, I remind you that Peter, just before these eight verses, with the help of God the Father, has confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”[1] And Jesus informs Peter and the disciples exactly who the Messiah is and what his identity requires him to do. 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.”[2] Peter rebukes Jesus, for Peter wants a happier ending than death and resurrection. But Jesus doubles down. He compares Peter to Satan for his obstruction of his mission and ministry. And he goes on to say that Peter, the disciples, you, and I must do the same. We are to save our life by losing it. We are to give ourselves away by taking up our cross and following him. And that sacrifice, Jesus’, Peter’s and ours, produces a truly happy ending that exceeds Peter’s imagining. The Son of Man will return with his angels in the glory of the Father, and he will repay everyone for that sacrifice.

The lesson of the First Prediction of the Passion has been learned at Good Shepherd. We are here in service to each other. I have seen it and been the beneficiary of it. We are here for the poor in our Seasons of Love Dinners. We are here for the community in which we live. Never have I seen a request of us rejected out of hand. In each of these decisions we put first the good that can be done and second our own safety.

The message that we incarnate is the stern message that Jesus taught and Jesus enacted. It is the message and the life that Peter was to learn. We have glimpsed and defined Jesus’ cross in our circumstances, and we have willfully and intentionally lifted it and carry it proudly. And like Jesus, we know there is no turning back.

[1] Saint Matthew 16:16.

[2] Saint Matthew 16:21.