Read Jeremiah 20:7-9, Ps. 63:2-6,8-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Last Sunday, we saw how Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever he would lose on earth is loosed in heaven. With this power and authority, Peter protested that Jesus would have to suffer, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Peter said. Let us consider some vital lessons in today’s readings:

1. Never Stop Praying For Religious Leaders
From the time of Peter to date, men and women of God have tended to abuse the enormous power and authority given to them by Jesus, the humble lamb who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Cf. Mark 10:45). Once we forget this fact, we become high-handed in our use of power. We could even be serving the devil's purpose without knowing it.

2. Be Attentive in Spirit to Detect the Voice of Satan
The devil is a liar and a master in the art of deception. He will never come as a dragon with two horns, sharp teeth or a long tail. No, he comes as a child of light, a trusted friend or lover, and he would use the most subtle manner to seduce us into sin. After trying so hard to prevent Jesus from attaining glory without the cross (at the beginning of His public ministry), the devil tried again through Peter.

Jesus did not bother to address Peter as a person. He went straight to the source: “Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me, for you are not on the side of God but of men.” If we listen very well, suggestions from friends, co-workers and colleagues when facing difficulties or trials are subtle inspirations of the devil. This is why we must be alert in spirit, as St. Paul warns: “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance. (Ephesians 6:18)

3. We Are Either Rocks (Stepping Stones) or Satan (Stumbling Blocks)
From another perspective, some scholars have explained that Jesus did not intend to insult Peter or equate him with the devil. Rather, Jesus referred to Peter as a hindrance, a stumbling block (a translation for the word “Satan”). Having made him the head of the church, Jesus wanted Peter to function as a rock – a stepping stone – a channel through which people could get to Christ. However, by dissuading Jesus from the Cross, Peter was now acting as a stumbling block. Hence, Jesus said to him: “Get behind me.” In other words, “follow my footsteps; don’t try to lead me.”

As ministers of God, when we do not follow the footsteps of Christ, we scandalise the faithful – we prevent them from coming to Christ because they no longer see the light in us. We become stumbling blocks (Satan) rather than stepping stones. For this reason, Jesus said: “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2)

4. No Cross, No Crown
Recently, there has been a wave of the Gospel of Prosperity among preachers, especially in Africa. With Governments failing woefully, people trooped to the Church to find solace. By failing to bring people to repentance and raise God-fearing leaders, the Church has been practically reduced to a pub where people go to have fun and feel good about themselves. Shouting loud “Amen” and “Alleluias” will not do us any good if, after all that dancing and sweating, we refuse to discipline ourselves and walk in the light of Christ.

What does it mean to carry one’s cross? The word “Cross,” as used here, does not necessarily mean those things we do not like about our lives which we have no control over. No. The Crosses Jesus speaks about are the sufferings that come to us due to our decision to follow Christ, do what is right, and obey God. This means you can drop your Cross whenever you feel you have had enough, but somehow, you continue to endure the pain.

For example, your boss in the office is asking you out, and you refuse because that would mean breaking your marital vows. As a result, they decide to punish you, hoping that one day, you will eventually cave into their sinful demands. Carrying the cross is embracing suffering gladly as the price for doing what is right. As St. Paul says in today’s Second Reading, carrying the cross is offering your body as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God.

Do not be a Christian for convenience. Do not select and choose which commandment to obey. Follow the narrow path. As Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and many take it. For the gate is narrow, and the road is hard that leads to life, and few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-15)

5. Repentance Begins with Renewing Your Mind
Do you feel stuck in sin? Have you tried so hard to stop a bad habit without success? Too much dirt and filth may be in your mind, immorality, lust and greed for worldly things. Transformation can only happen through the renewing of your mind. Renew your mind by reading the Bible and other Christian literature. Reading, like fasting, is not easy but helps calm the flesh's impulses.

Discipline your mind by spending at least an hour daily reading and another hour praying. Even the bible acknowledges that God’s people perish today due to ignorance. (Cf. Hosea 4:6). Stop feasting on pornography and its subtle forms, which abound today on various social media sites. Those “viral” videos flying all over the internet have been found to contain real spiritual viruses – they shift our minds away from God. If you are careful enough to drink only purified water or eat only hygienic foods as the doctor recommends, why do you allow all kinds of evil content into your mind?

6. Embrace Persecution with Gladness
Jesus tells us: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Have you ever been laughed at because of your dress code? Have you ever been called names, insulted or even rejected for standing by your beliefs and values? Even Jeremiah, in today’s First Reading, says: “I have become a laughing stock all day; everyone mocks me.”

Let’s face it: though we live in the world, we do not belong to this world, and the world hates us. (John 15:18-19) If you have not been experiencing this hatred (if you have never suffered anything for the sake of God), it is because you have been compromising your Christian values. As the saying goes: “If the devil is not fighting you, it is because you have been working for him.” Do not be conformed to this world.

Let us pray: Almighty, may the truth of your Word guide my life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Jeremiah 20:7-9, Ps. 63:2-6,8-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu