FAITH (4): It Shows When You Pick Up a Cross

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – August 30th, 2020

St. Mary – Derby, KS

Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

(1) The Kingdom Needs a King

For the past three weeks, the readings for Mass have focused our attention on the topic of Faith. Remember, Jesus is announcing and inaugurating the Kingdom of God, but this Kingdom conquers the world not through violence and power, but through faith. Faith is a big deal. And when I say “Faith” I’m not talking about how we need to suspend belief in facts and evidence and our experience, and make an outrageous bet that Jesus is God and we better believe it or else, no! Think about just a few weeks ago, the parable of the treasure found in a field: the man didn’t make a random bet that there was a treasure in the field. He had already found the treasure and was making the best investment of his life! We had the story of Peter’s faith in Jesus on the Sea of Galilee: based on all of the evidence that he had seen with his own eyes, Peter was able to place his trust, place his faith in Jesus. The Canaanite woman is another example: she had heard all of the stories and all of the facts about this Jesus from Nazareth, and so she placed her faith in him that he could heal her daughter.

And then Peter’s confession of faith last week. We need to go back to that scene from last week, because today’s Gospel is the second part of that scene. Last week Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responded with that great and revolutionary confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Usually when we hear the story of Peter’s confession of faith  passage we think, “Oh, Peter is finally confessing that Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity. The ‘Father’ revealed to Peter (in a dream or something) how the Trinity works, and Peter is confessing that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. And because of that, Peter becomes the first pope.” But that’s not what’s going on. Peter is confessing faith in something that fulfills the scriptures. He is confessing a revolutionary fact in the fullest sense of the word.

What does Peter say? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The “christ” is the translation for the Hebrew word “Meshiach,” or Messiah. And the Messiah, at this time, was believed to be the one God would send to supplant the rulers of the this world. But Peter also says, “The Son of the living God.” Again, like I mentioned, Peter is not saying, “You are God the Son, the second person of the blessed Trinity.” “Son of God” is a biblical phrase that highlighted the relationship that the King of Israel (like David) had with regard to God. “Son of God” was a title given to the king of Israel. But more than that, everybody was walking around with coins in their pocket that said, “Son of God.” And that “Son of God” was Caesar Augustus—that was one of his imperial titles as well. So when Peter confesses his faith in Jesus, what is does this faith look like? Well, he’s not making a randomly inspired theological claim that Jesus is God the Son, second person of the Trinity, no. Peter is confessing his allegiance to, his faith in Jesus Christ. Peter has come to realize that Jesus is the true king of the world, God’s anointed king who has come to overthrow the kingdoms of this world. And that is revolutionary—literally revolutionary in nature.

(2) What does Jesus know about the coming king that we don’t?

But what does Jesus know about the Kingdom that we don’t? Again, when we think of a new kingdom coming to power, we think in the “normal” way: there will be a war, a revolution, a fight; we will need to overthrow the current kingdom, all of the current powers of the world; we need to enthrone the new king and then establish his rule throughout the world! And this is all true! For the Kingdom of God to be established, this all needs to happen.

But, the way that this happens is not the “normal way” of doing things. Jesus tells his disciples, “All of the powers of the world do it one way, but we’re going to do it another way.” And so we hear that “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21). What? Are you serious, Jesus?

Do you see now why Peter was a bit confused? Jesus is the messiah, the new king, and his plan is to go get himself killed? Remember, Jesus was not the only would-be-messiah in those days. There were lots of them! And they all had the same fate: death at the hands of the Temple authorities, Herod, and Caesar. Peter’s confession of faith and allegiance to Jesus as messiah is a claim that has gotten other people killed. And when the would-be-messiah died, the revolution died with him.

So what does Jesus know that we don’t? Jesus knows the heart and mind of God. That’s what he tells Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt. 16:23). Jesus knows that the messiah and king isn’t just one who rules gloriously and in power, gathering the nations of the world, and so on. Jesus also knows that the king is the suffering servant that Isaiah spoke of. Jesus knows that the powers he must defeat are not the lowly and passing powers of the world. The powers he must defeat are sin and death itself. And those cannot be defeated by playing their own game. They can only be defeated by self-giving, self-sacrificing love. On the cross, Jesus will allow the powers of the world to do their worst: betrayal, killing an innocent man, death. But on the cross, he will swallow up those powers, and defeat them through his resurrection (c.f., 1 Cor. 15:12-34).

(3) Faith: Allegiance to the King and His Coming Kingdom

Now, this is where things don’t always make sense to us, and it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. What I mean is, “If Jesus won the victory, and the Kingdom of God has been established, why doesn’t the world reflect that?” And there are a not of answers to this. I mean, the world has been made a much better place through the work of Christians. But also, we tend to force our own idea of what this should look like and forget the biblical worldview.

Think about Caesar Augustus, the emperor at this time. After his father Julius Caesar was killed, there was a civil war between him and Mark Antony. And Augustus won! At the battle of Actium Augustus won the final victory! He was now Caesar and emperor of the whole Roman world! But news didn’t travel fast, soldiers didn’t travel fast, and it took time to squelch the rest of the revolts against his power and to ensure there was allegiance to him. Take the example of King Herod. Herod was originally on Mark Antony’s side. And so when Augustus won, Herod swapped his loyalty: instead of dying as an enemy of Augustus, he pledged his loyalty and allegiance to him.

And so even though the decisive battle was won at Actium, there was still a lot of work to be done to establish the Roman Empire. After the battle the soldiers of Rome went to squelch the remaining revolts. Messengers were sent out to announce the “good news” that there was a new empire, a new king—and that you better get on board with it. This “good news” they announced was called the “euangelion—or as we say in English, the “gospel.” People who spread the good news of this empire were “evangelists.”

Do you see what I’m getting at? Jesus did win the final battle: by his cross and resurrection he has won the battle for the world, he won the victory over the powers of sin and death. By his ascension he has been enthroned as King. But—and this is the point—but the “good news” of this new kingdom and new King must be spread. People need to be told about this King, and be offered the chance to pledge their allegiance to him. And that allegiance to him and his kingdom (as Peter profoundly declared last week) is one element of what we call Faith.

(4) Take Up Your Cross

The Kingdom is established, the Kingdom conquers the world, the Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven” through our faith (c.f., 1 John 5:4), through our faith and allegiance to the King. We can rebel against the King, we can deny that he is King—but just like anyone who rebelled against Caesar and the Roman Empire, who refused to acknowledge him as King and Lord and “Son of God,” it does not end well. That’s why we talk about Jesus coming again, coming to judge the world. Judgement isn’t something we should be scared of if we are loyal to the King—judgement means that he will comes and finally put an end to all who are against him. The faith we profess may put us at odds with the world now, but one day the King will return.

I often think of the Cristero martyrs, for example Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Jose Sanchez Del Rio. Both were killed at the hand of the secular government as they shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Both gave heroic witness to Jesus Christ, to his Kingship and his Kingdom, by their lives and their deaths. These men did not follow the King to their deaths because they were ordered to, but because they had claimed Christ as their King, because they had turned their lives, their hearts, their very selves over to Christ. They announced the coming Kingdom and King.

It is through a life lived in faith and allegiance to the King that the Kingdom grows. Through our witness, countless people can be inspired to live their lives in service to this King. It’s not bishops or priests who do this, it’s all of us. It is people living their baptism, people living with Christ as their King. It is people who take up their cross daily and follow him.

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