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Most Rev Peter Turkson (Now Cardinal)
22ND SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME A
DISCIPLESHIP (MT 16:21-27)
Today’s readings at Mass give us a picture of the development of discipleship of the two most important figures in the New Testament after Jesus. The Gospel reading shows us the development of Peter’s faith . The reading from Romans 12:1-2 shows us the mature Paul.
All agree that Peter was number one among the Twelve in the days of Jesus. Evidently he had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and left the Baptist to join Jesus. He made the whole public journey with Jesus from that initial call until the death of Jesus whom he abandoned in Jerusalem. His conversion was not so unlike that of St.Paul. Just that the sequence was different and the adjustment harder. Peter followed Jesus first and then denied him in the most critical circumstances. Paul, not knowing Jesus personally to begin with, tried to destroy those who followed him. Then he himself followed him absolutely.
We are given some hints of Peter’s personality in the Gospels. Clearly he was so important that the dark side of his story could be told truthfully, without denying his leading role in the primitive Christian community. If Mark was his scribe and repeated what he had heard from Peter’s lips, then clearly Peter did not let himself off lightly. The disciples get very severe criticism in Mark’s Gospel- Mark often makes them look brainless, and indeed in Matthew’s treatment of the subject in today’s Gospel Peter is called diabolical- get behind me Satan. Presumably this is a true repetition of what Jesus said at Caesarea Philippi, and what Peter said Jesus said- otherwise it would be unthinkable that a mere scribe could so denigrate the prince of the Apostles.
Peter must have been an idealist from the start. He had left Galilee to follow John the Baptist. He then followed Jesus in Galilee. He was a successful fisherman- able to sail and captain a boat- sharing a sort of cooperative business with James and John. He would have spoken Hebrew for liturgical purposes, Aramaic for ordinary daily conversation, and Greek for commerce and exchange with gentiles in Galilee. He lived in Capernaum where there was a Roman garrison. It is clear already that despite the rustic tag often given to him he was no such rustic. Sophisticated letters in Greek were attributed to him. He was the preacher and guardian of the Christian faith, with a position of authority recognised also by Paul (Gal 2; Cor 1:12; 9:6). He went into the whole world to preach the Good News of God’s love and its transforming force in the world. The Kingdom of God had come in Christ. It is bodied forth in the Church, secure for all generations, solid as a rock. Peter was a real symbol of it.
He is the best known character in the N.T. His writings constitute a third of it. He was born in Tarsus in Asia Minor and probably spent his young manhood in Jerusalem as a student. He specialised in legal studies, and belonged to the party of the Pharisees. He was cultured, deeply traditional, and zealous for The Law and its defence. He saw in Jesus’ seeming indifference to the Law, and the neglect of it especially by the early Greek speaking followers of Jesus (like Stephen) a danger for the traditional faith of Israel. So he committed himself to the defence of his heritage, using physical force if necessary. But on the road to Damascus he made a total about turn. Now he belonged to Christ. He could see The Law as traditionally understood could not be imposed on Christian converts coming from the Gentile world. Salvation did not depend on observing diet laws, and ritual laws, and laws governing association with others. Salvation depended on accepting that Jesus Christ was God’s own Son who had lived and died to do his Father’s will. To live like Jesus was to live for Jesus, and to live for him was to live for the Father. That was the meaning of the kingdom of God. If the world accepted this the world was different. Paul saw this as his mission- to restore the lost unity of mankind. There would be no more Jew or Gentile, no more slave or free man, no more male or female: all would be one in Christ (Gal 3:26-8). The Church bodies this forth, realises it in its every day life. This is the Gospel of Christian freedom, it is a new creation (2 Cor 5:18).
Crucial to the whole development of these apostles of Jesus is the insistence on the acceptance of suffering. They had both refused the idea of a suffering Messiah. They changed profoundly in accepting it. Most of our life seems to be dedicated to coping with our own suffering and removing the suffering of others. We may think that coping with suffering is the glue that keeps us human. We never want to make other people suffer. We cannot bear even to see an animal treated badly. And when it comes to children most people are appalled to see them treated badly. Somehow when every war is over there is the euphoria that nothing like this can ever happen again. And yet it does. And nearly always worse than the last time. The two world wars begun in Europe culminated in atomic warfare. This was after exposure to gas and chemical warfare. It was impossible for enemies to find a way that would finally annihilate the opposition. Where have all the flowers gone? Gone, gone, everyone. Get behind me, Satan. God’s ways are not your ways. I preach Christ crucified. Discipleship of Christ is to believe this, and to try to live in a way that is called the way of love. It is for each of us to examine ourselves regularly and see how we relate with each other. We are a little cosmos among ourselves. We only relate where we live. And where we live is where we pray. That is why we are here at Mass today. A happy Sunday to you all.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK