Our second reading today is an immensely powerful text from Romans. When we hear Scripture, the danger is that we will hear it as something that sounds beautiful, but is very distant from our lives. If we really hear what St. Paul is saying it is about as fierce a demand as it can be.
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God , to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).” He is encouraging us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus when He talked about suffering and dying in our Gospel today (Matthew 16:21-27). This is Jesus’ first mention of His passion in the Gospel, and Peter objects. This is contrary to all his expectations, and did not fit at all with what he was expecting of “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:16).” Jesus responds harshly, “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (v. 23).” This echoes His words in the desert talking to the real Satan (Matt 4:10).” I expect this was a severe test for Jesus’ will: He would not have been any more anxious to get crucified than you or I would, and He was sharing this secret with His closest friends hoping they would get it and support Him, but He was disappointed. He had floated a similar concept before in chapter 10 while talking about the trials disciples would face “and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:38-39).” Very likely the saying floated right over their heads, seeming distant, perhaps a figure of speech, and was lost. When it got up close and personal it was a no go.
Notice Jesus talking about how God thinks and about how human beings do. This echoes St. Paul’s concern to be transformed by renewal of our minds so as not to be conformed to this age.
Here is the key: the mindset of the world, living according to the flesh tends to think about clinging to what we have, and perhaps acquiring more. God’s thinking is about giving ourselves away. Many people want to reduce Christianity to a call to be a little nicer and a little kinder. It is really about giving ourselves completely to God, and we are only able to do it because He giving Himself completely to us.
This is reflected in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World “Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one…as we are one” (Jn. 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason. For He implied a certain Likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and in the union of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self (G.S. 24).”Throughout the Bible is the notion of sacrifice, a form of worship involving a gift to God. In the Old Testament there were animal and grain offering. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, offering Himself once for all (Hebrews 9:12; see Her 7:27). Romans 12:1-2 says that we are to offer ourselves (see also Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 5:1-2). We do not add to His sacrifice, but become participants in it.
This is done sacramentally in the Eucharist and in action as we live the Christian life, Christian service, and at the proper time, Christian death. The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Liturgy says, “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a proper appreciation of the rites and prayers they should participate knowingly, devoutly, and actively. They should be instructed by God’s word and be refreshed at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands go the priest, but also with him, they should learn to offer themselves too. Through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever closer union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all (S.C. 48).”
Can we hear the full weight of this call?