Father Donald Senior, CP

The only way to ‘save’ our life is to ‘lose’ it to the Lord Jesus

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

June 19: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zec 12:10-11; 13:1; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

Our Gospel reading this Sunday poses the key question repeated in all three synoptic Gospels at a critical juncture in Jesus’ mission: “Who do you say that I am?” When Peter answers, “The Christ of God,” we might expect Jesus to be pleased with this response. But instead, Jesus seems to deflect Peter’s declaration.

The New American Bible used in the Lectionary translates Jesus’ response as “he scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.” The Greek verb here is “epitimao” which literally means to “strongly silence” or “rebuke.” In any case, Jesus appears not to want the disciples to identify him simply as the “Messiah” or longawaited “Anointed One” — the royal descendent of David who would liberate Israel from its enemies and bring lasting peace.

Surely the Gospel of Luke, along with the rest of the New Testament, proclaims that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but here in this Gospel passage Jesus challenges the disciples to go deeper and to realize what the cost of bringing peace demands. By being true to his mission of healing and reconciliation, a mission of proclaiming justice and calling for a change of heart, Jesus would pay the price. He immediately tells his disciples that he “must suffer greatly, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed.”

This Gospel passage also reminds us that the experience of threat and rejection can also await those who want to follow Jesus. In one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus in all the Gospels, we are told, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Some commentators believe this saying can distort Christian faith. We are not called to subservience or self-abnegation, they contend, but to affirm and celebrate our lives as human beings. Christianity should not be portrayed as grim but as joyful and life-giving.

As Pope Francis reminded us in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” we are to be joyful and, as he colorfully puts it, not to go around looking like we just came back from a funeral. But the pope also notes in that same exhortation that to be followers of Jesus we need to work for justice for the poor, for reconciliation in the midst of violence and for building bridges across the chasms of human divisions and alienations.

Any of us who have tried to carry out this mission of Jesus in the ordinary circumstances of our families (where divisions can be filled with bitterness), or our parish or our workplace or in the wider society knows that this is hard, thankless and often unwelcome work. The pope himself has met such resistance to his message of peace and outreach, even from members of the hierarchy.

The Gospel today is paired with a haunting passage from the prophet Zechariah. The prophet alludes to someone in Jerusalem who was “pierced” and whose loss has triggered “mourning” and grief “as one grieves over a firstborn.” We don’t know to whom the prophet was referring but the point of the passage is that God would pour out his merciful grace and enable the people to be purified and healed.

John’s Gospel would cite this same passage in response to the pierced side of the crucified Jesus (see Jn 19:37). God’s loving and healing mercy is with us even as we struggle to be faithful and to follow Jesus.

While the readings for this Sunday are sober and remind us of the cost of discipleship, Jesus’ words to his disciples end on a strong, uplifting note. In reaching beyond ourselves to serve others, in seeking justice and attempting to build reconciliation and peace, in striving to love as Jesus love, in all of these ways we may at times feel that we are “losing our life,” but we also discover that this is the way we will truly “save” our lives.


  • scripture
  • pope francis