Called to Follow
I would like to start with something funny. Grandma brought her granddaughter to Mass on a Sunday morning. As soon as her granddaughter saw the cross, she asked, ‘Who is hanging there?’ Grandma answered, ‘He is Jesus.’ ‘And who is Jesus?’, her granddaughter retorted. Grandma replied, ‘He is the owner of the Church’. Hearing this, her granddaughter ran out of the Church shouting, ‘If this is what they did to their owner what would do to His followers?’
Perhaps, the granddaughter’s fears were Peter’s. He could sense his future. He could feel that if Jesus were to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously in the hands of the elders, chief priests and Scribes, the same fate awaited him. For Jesus had told them earlier that ‘A disciple is not above the teacher… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household’ (Matthew 10: 24-25 NRSV). Peter was simply afraid of his fate.
He was afraid because he loved Jesus. He would have loved to see Jesus reign triumphantly as the Messiah of Israel. In a way, Peter thought he was doing something good for Jesus, for himself and for Israel. He knew that if Jesus were to reign as King, Israel would be better off, and Israel would once again enjoy the freedom that he had enjoyed in David’s time. But Peter, just as did Othello, one of William Shakespeare characters, ‘Loved not wisely but too well.’
His love for Jesus was not a self-giving love but a self-seeking love. It was a kind of love that controls the other. Or the love that suffocates and enslaves the other. It is a kind of love that is prevalent these days in many marriages and families, creating angst and breakups. It is a possessive love that is too protective of the beloved. This kind of love grows when we make our lives about “us”; when we are into what Hans von Balthasar describes as the ‘Ego-drama.’
But Jesus wants Peter, and all of us to be characters in the ‘Theo-drama’. A drama in which God is the scriptwriter, the director, the stage, and we are the actors, summoned to play God’s script. So Jesus asked Peter, and He asks us to get behind Him. In other words, to follow Him. For we are not called to lead Him, but to follow Him. Come to think of it, how can a blind man lead a man with sight? This is the point Jesus is making. We cannot lead Him because we are blind.
Our vision has been distorted by the effects of Original Sin. As such, we try too often on our own to see again by seeking what Thomas Aquinas called the four substitutes for God: ‘Power, wealth, honour, and pleasure’. These four things, while they promise us sight, freedom, and happiness, can end up impairing our sights permanently, enslaving us, and destroying our happiness. This was the slippery slope Peter had embarked upon with his self-seeking love.
To rescue Peter, and indeed all of us from self-seeking love, Jesus points us to the cross. For on the cross, Jesus despised power, wealth, honour, and pleasure. He despised them so that He could love wisely. He despised them to free His love for us from the Ego-drama, so that He could draw us into the Theo-dramaand love us as the Father wants. It is to gain this freedom that Jesus calls us to follow Him by denying ourselves and carrying our own crosses.
Greg and Abby denied themselves. They carried crosses of conventional disdain because they both agreed that one of them should be a-stay-at-home parent to provide their children with stability, affection, and parental love. They were able achieve this end because they despised the power of careerism, the security of wealth, the pleasure of expensive overseas trips and the honour of being accepted by their contemporaries. Today, Greg and Abby are proud parents of four healthy children, who have grown to have families of their own, and they appreciate the power of the cross and the freedom we gain by following Christ.
Fr Francis Afu