I don't get it

A worker asked for a pay raise and got this note back from his manager: "Because of the fluctuation predisposition of your position's productive capacity as juxtaposed to standard norms, it would be momentarily injudicious to advocate your requested increment."

The puzzled worker went to the manager and said, "If this is about my pay raise, I don't get it."

"That's right," said the manager, “you don’t get it.”

In our gospel reading today (Matthew 16.21-27), St Peter does not get it.

He does not understand what Jesus says about his fate, and who can blame him. Peter had previously acclaimed Jesus as the Christ, the chosen one of God; it was unthinkable that the Messiah should suffer and die, this was not how it was supposed to be.  

Peter just does not get it.

When politicians say in interviews, ‘Let me be absolutely clear about this….’ what follows is often far from clear. Jesus does not say to his disciples ‘Let me be clear about this.’ But he is being completely transparent and honest about what will happen to him and what is expected of anyone who wished to be his follower. There are no false promises, no illusions about what is involved in being a Christian. If we want to be a follower of his, he says, we need to be prepared to endure suffering, take up our cross and follow him. Let’s be honest about this, (as politicians also say), it’s not a very attractive proposition: join the church, become a Christian and accept pain and suffering.

Jesus must have left his disciples totally bamboozled. It is as though he was talking in riddles: whoever wants to save his life, will lose it? And whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it? 'I just don’t get it', you can imagine them saying.  

We might equate the sacrifice that Jesus requires with the great heroes of the Faith:  prophets like Jeremiah for whom the proclamation of God’s word brought insult and derision;the great saints who offered up their lives in service; the martyrs who gave up their lives rather than deny Jesus and ensured that the Christian faith was passed on. But the words of Jesus apply equally well to our ordinary lives, whenever we realize that we live not just for ourselves, but for other people and for God. In our small unselfish acts of sacrifice when we put the needs of others before our own, we deny ourselves and follow Christ.

Fr Peter Needham, the preacher at the Pilgrimage of Healing at Walsingham, was coming from Barnsley when his mini-bus broke down. Most people would have abandoned the journey, waited for the AA and gone home. Knowing he would be letting down the pilgrims and the shrine he hitch-hiked, and after four lifts he made it in time to preach in the afternoon. He put himself out and took a risk for the sake of our others. 

St Paul recommends that we offer ourselves as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God (Romans 12.1-2). We must think with a new mind, influenced by the Holy Spirit, then we will know what God wants, what is good, what is the perfect thing to do, which is no mean achievement.

However in living out the gospel of self-denial, we have to look after ourselves in order to look after others. Any carer must have respite. We have to achieve a balance between work and rest within the parameters of what is required of us.  God ordained a Sabbath day, so that for one day in seven, we should rest.

The way forward and what God is calling us to do is not always clear,  sometimes we are just given sufficient  guidance for now. A visitor to a town asked a young lad how to get to the station.  "Well," the boy answered, "You turn right by the grocer's shop and then take the second street to the left. That will bring you to a crossroads. And then, sir, you had better ask again.The lad did not trust that the visitor would be able to follow all the instructions on how to reach his destination, but he gave him as much as he could usefully use for part of the way.

The path of life is not clearly mapped out. How we actually live out the gospel is particular to each one of us. But we are all given the same sign for we each have a cross to pick up and the initial direction is the same:  to follow in the steps of Christ.