In 1984, Poland was still under Communist control. The Prime Minister ordered the crucifixes removed from classroom walls. Catholic Bishops attacked the ban, which had stirred waves of anger and resentment across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain in effect, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms. But one zealous communist school administrator, the director of the Mietnow Agricultural College, took the crosses down from his seven lecture halls where they had hung since the school’s founding in the 20’s. A few days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well. The next day, two-thirds of the school’s six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. They then marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest.
The soldiers surrounded the church, but so did the press, and pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world; so did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning: “There is no Poland without a cross.”
Today, perhaps, the cross has come to symbolize comfort to us because we have had to sacrifice little in our lives. But the more we are called upon to carry our own crosses, the more we will understand the one Jesus carried to Golgotha. Today’s Gospel challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
Jeremiah lived from about 650 B.C to about 580 B.C, and most of his work was done in Jerusalem. When Jeremiah began his ministry the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of their sinful ways that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people. The other prophets of Israel had witnessed some successes, at least for a little while, but not Jeremiah. He was speaking to a brick wall, to people who simply didn’t care about God or their religion. Judged by this world’s standards Jeremiah’s life was a failure. History shows that he gave them fair warning but the people of Israel ignored him and went on to suffer disaster. They lost everything. Their nation was torn asunder, their temple destroyed, and their leaders were carried off into captivity by their enemies... Today’s passage in the first reading, we hear Jeremiah accusing Yahweh of tricking him and offers us a powerful description of someone suffering for obedience to his conscience.
Last week, we heard Peter proclaim that he believes Jesus is the Messiah. And Jesus told him that upon that faith he would build his church. Today we hear what that faith will cost. Remember, the disciples and the entire Hebrew people were still thinking of a Davidic Messiah, a conquering king to come in and rescue them from their oppression and restore Israel to its former glory – to make Israel great again! That is why Peter couldn’t bear to hear or think of a suffering Messiah. Jesus rebuked him sternly, “Get behind me, you satan,” in an attempt to nullify this temptation to shrink away from the work for which Jesus had come.
Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go." Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ's follower. Like Peter and Jeremiah we are often tempted to judge the success or failure of our lives, our ministries by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way.
Jesus gives us three things to do as disciples: 1- deny yourself, get rid of selfish thoughts, desires and tendencies from our hearts and let God fill our hearts. Allow God to live in your heart and so make your life a living sacrifice to God. 2-pick up and carry your cross, carrying the cross with Jesus always means pain and suffering Our personal sufferings become the cross of Jesus when we suffer by serving others selflessly; when we give of ourselves, our health, wealth, time and talents to others even when it hurts; when we join our physical, mental or emotional sufferings to Jesus’ and offer them with Him to the Father in reparation for our sins and those of the world; 3-follow Jesus, simply, as disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of loving one another.