As I was reading this week’s lessons, I was struck by how much we have heard from Peter these last few weeks.  He was at the Transfiguration of Jesus, he walked on water for a few steps, he recognized Jesus as the messiah and was told that he would be the foundation of the church.  Then we get to today, and he is rebuked by Jesus as though he were a demon.  He wanted Jesus to be safe from the harm that was coming to him; yet if Jesus accepted Peter’s way, the more human way, he would not be aligned with God’s will.  

That had to be really hard for Peter to hear.  It’s hard to hear today.  Jesus does all this talk of cross bearing, and I am certain that it wasn’t lost on Peter that day, that bearing a cross led to certain death.  So it’s no wonder why he tried to persuade Jesus to find some other way.

Jesus is nothing, if not single minded and committed to the plan as he understood it.  And now, instead of parables about how to minister to others, Jesus begins the difficult work of preparing the disciples for his imminent death. No wonder Peter was hoping for a different plan; Jesus’ current plan meant sure and certain death. 

And yet… Jesus rebukes Peter for wanting the easy way out.  I’m sure Jesus would have given much to take the easy way out himself, but he doesn’t.  He continues on the way to a certain and painful death.  A death for the life of the world.  

Jesus offers us a similar path.  Taking up one’s cross is not an easy path to take, and yet it is exactly what we promise to do in our baptism.  Everytime we take up our cross to follow Jesus, something in us dies, just as we die to sin in baptism. I think people often misuse the phrase of taking up one’s cross to mean something that is about the person in question.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  I think cross bearing has nothing to do with us as individuals and everything to do with the kingdom of God.  I’m not even sure it’s possible to carry a cross for ourselves.  Sure, we all have pain and sorrows which hurt deep within us, some so painful and deep we cannot share them with others.  But we have to remember that Jesus did not carry his cross for himself; he carried it on behalf of Peter and on behalf of all of us.  And maybe somewhere in the depths of his soul, Peter knew that was what Jesus was doing; perhaps he was trying to stop Jesus because he didn’t feel worthy.  He certainly said he wasn’t on at least one occasion. Whatever his reason, Peter had trouble accepting a messiah like Jesus.  A messiah who leads all of his disciples to the cross.  That is the place where the suffering of humanity joins the suffering of Jesus.  It is there at that cross where we find God in the midst of all suffering.

I don’t blame Peter. His reaction was one of love even if it was misguided.  But Jesus calls him back into the place of the cross; it is upon Peter the rock that the church is built. And we know that Peter did in fact grow into his role as a disciple and evangelist.  And, we grow too; if ever we think that Jesus is done asking us to carry the cross, well, think again.  There is always someone who needs our help; someone who’s suffering is ours to carry and ours to help alleviate.  Every time we are asked to lift a cross, part of us dies; and we are changed, evermore becoming more like the one whom we serve, Jesus of Nazareth. If we open our hearts and our eyes to God’s Holy Spirit we can see the cross of Jesus being lifted high in big and small ways.  Here are some pictures; a disabled child unable to open his milk container in the school cafeteria.  Many days his milk is taken by other kids whom his teacher is too busy to see. But the custodian sees.  And every morning from then on, that custodian makes sure that child gets to drink his milk.  Making himself unpopular with the other kids.

A homeless person is sitting under a tree in front of a fast food restaurant when suddenly someone about to go order some food asks them if they can buy them a meal.

A young mother has to put back some groceries because she doesn’t have enough money; a person in the line says they will purchase her groceries.

There are so many ways for us to be cross bearers for the sake of others.  What we need to do is what Jesus did; we need to actually see those who are in front of our eyes; we need to listen to what they need, and then we need to act in small ways and sometimes in big ways.  Are we carrying the cross for another or are we trying to explain it all away? If we pray and if we ask to see, we will find where it is we are being called to lift the cross.  Just be ready.  It’s not easy, but Jesus will be there.  Wherever there is suffering of any kind, that is where we will find him.