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22nd Sunday in OT (A)

Love changes hearts and minds –MATTHEW 16:21–27

By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba

In today’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear to His disciples that He is to suffer and die “…at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes” (Matt 16:21). These leaders in society are the ones who initiate Jesus’ ultimate demise. We must pray not just for our own conversion, but also for relatives and friends and the leaders in our society.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and passionately expresses his wish that suffering and death not befall Him. He unwittingly angers Jesus by his words. “Get thee behind me Satan! You are an obstacle in my path…” (Matt 16:23).  Jesus correctly addresses Peter as Satan, a name which means adversary, since in this case, Peter is in opposition to the will of God.

Pause a moment and imagine yourself as Peter.  How would you feel?  Recall that Peter loves Jesus and Jesus loves Peter. Firm admonition, done in the spirit of love is necessary training for all disciples on the journey of maturity in faith.

Like Peter, with the help of grace, we gradually learn to be neither buoyed by praise nor flattened by criticism, as love for God and each other deepens.

Jesus tells Peter “…the way you think is not God’s way but man’s” (Matt 16:23). Peter’s mind and his ways of thinking are still maturing. As his mind is renewed, he will better be able to test and approve God’s will (Rom 12:2).

It is this transformation that will ready Peter to be the rock of Christ’s Church. Like Jesus, Peter will come to know the Father’s heart and do His will.

In our society we sometimes say or hear, ‘That is how I am. I’m too old to change’. In these moments, we pause and remember Jesus’ admonition to Peter and desire conversion for ourselves or others.

We imagine Jesus speaking to us as He tells His disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)

The ‘self’ Jesus wants us to renounce is the unhealthy and demanding ego that desires things our way, based on the values of the world and our ideas of success and happiness.

If we are willing, God’s abundant grace helps us in our weaknesses, and we discover more deeply the values of the Kingdom. Gradually our spiritual eyes and ears open. The taking up of our daily cross is then done out of love, as conversion breaks through the barriers that once hardened our hearts.

“For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24).

In desiring to save our temporary life by the values of the world, we could lose our eternal life in Heaven. Losing one’s life for the sake of Christ begins with a desire for conversion.

We begin to discover, usually bit by bit, the abundant life Jesus promised as our relationship with the Lord deepens and we work for the sake of peace, love, justice and truth, the values of the gospel.

We begin the journey to conversion when we find ourselves taking time to be with the Lord in silence, thanksgiving and in the daily liturgy at Mass. As we begin to embrace new life, we renounce our plans, ideas and opinions and gain a deeper sense of trust in God and His promises. We turn to Jesus with gratitude for His guidance, mercy, and love despite the challenges.

Jesus promises to reward each one according to his or her behaviour when He comes (Matt 16:27). May we be renewed in mind and heart when that day dawns.

Examen:  Do I pray for ongoing conversion of my own mind and heart, as well as for others?

Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, and a founding member of Prayer Rhythms for Change – a prayer and social action group at St Dominic’s RC Church, Morvant.