Really now…is a Gucci Bag, an Armani suit, a pair of GAP retro distressed jeans, or for that matter, a particular type of chocolate cookie recipe—”TO DIE FOR”? One would hope not. But then, what is?
In today’s first reading Jeremiah struggles with what he might be asked to die for. Angry with God, in lamentation and desperation, he cries out that he will no longer even “mention him [God] or speak in his name.” Then Jeremiah confesses that his message of prophecy and that for which his very life will be required, “becomes like fire burning in his heart” making him so weary that he cannot keep it in. This is the spirit of a true and truly holy martyr to the right cause.In the Gospel Jesus foretells his own martyrdom and his being delivered up—even to death on a cross—for the sake and the cause of the reign of God and the salvation of all humankind. It is the cause of all causes and he is the Martyr of martyrs. Peter’s calling out for God to forbid such a requirement of Jesus for the sake of the kingdom invites Jesus’ direct and bitter command to
Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” After all, Peter has called upon God to halt the very mission that Jesus has been sent to carry out for the forgiveness of sins and the reopening of the gates of heaven. Peter hears “death” in the message, but Jesus knows that it is not about death, but about life and love: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world—not to condemn, but to save.”
So who among Christians is called TO DIE FOR the cause? Historically not the majority of Christians and, from among his closest followers, not John the Apostle (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”), and of course not his own mother, Mary. But Jesus declares nevertheless that anyone who wishes to follow him must “deny his very self and take up his cross.” The life of a true Christian in this world is bound to include a little or a lot of gradual martyrdom and, for some, the actual sacrifice of one’s own life. It should certainly go without saying that the martyrdom we speak of here has absolutely nothing to do with the demented planned suicide of a terrorist reported daily in the media. We must take care that our children and youth know well the difference.
As a youth myself I was so impressed with the heroic example and lives of the pope martyrs and bishop martyrs, virgin martyrs, and missionary martyrs. I was also terrified that martyrdom might be required of me; I didn’t think I could or would have such courage. But in reality through life we die a thousand deaths to that which simply cannot be allowed or tolerated for a true Christian. Good parents, teachers, youth, and, indeed, all responsible Christians make the sacrifice and “die” to that which presents itself as an “obstacle” to Christ and his reign—that is to say, anything that stands in the way of the commandments, especially Jesus’ new commandment to love as he loves.
Like Peter, however, from time to time, by our sins, we become that obstacle to Jesus’ mission by “what we have done and what we have failed to do”; and that point we also risk hearing from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan!” We take heart, however, because in a few minutes we will hear Jesus say to us once again, “This is the chalice of my blood, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”