The first reading for today is taken from the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, sometimes referred to as Second Isaiah.
Second Isaiah is written between 588 and 528 BC for people in exile. The People of Israel suffered because they had been taken away from their homeland by the Babylonians. Yet, they knew that this was God's punishment for their turning to pagan ways. The second part of Isaiah is also called The Book of Consolation. The prophet says that a day will come when the sins of the people will be expiated and God will lead them back home. Today's reading is often referred to as the Third Song of the Suffering Servant. A prophet shall come who will willing take upon himself the guilt of the people so that he can suffer for them. This prophet is not a masochist. He does not want to suffer, but he does want to sacrifice himself out of love for God and his people.
This same thought is carried in the second part of today's gospel. Jesus, just proclaimed by Peter to be the Messiah, announces that he is ready to sacrifice himself for God's people. He loves deep enough to sacrifice.
This concept is completely against the mind set of Jesus's world, as well as our world. A little sacrifice might be acceptable, but total sacrifice seems unreasonable. That was the reason why Peter protested. And that is also the reason why Jesus tells him that he is arguing like the people of the world.
A mind set that is basically self-centered cannot understand sacrifice. It also cannot understand love. The person whose concept of love is as a means of his or her fulfilling needs cannot understand that when love is real it demands sacrifice. In fact, the deeper the love, the greater the sacrifice. The shallower the love, the more insignificant the sacrifice.
I ask the married people reading this to consider your marriages right now. Can you say that you are far more in love now than when you married? Your first years of marriage may have been more romantic. Without children you also had a greater ability to be present just for each other. Still, you must recognize that you sacrifice more for each other now then when you first married. If you sacrifice more now, then you are experiencing a greater love now. You understand your spouse better because you are willing to accept him or her more than ever before. The members of our parish whose life revolves around taken care of their sick husband or wife will also tell you that they love their spouse more now than on their honeymoon. On the opposite side, the person cruising a bar looking for a relationship without ties knows nothing about love.
Christ's love for us was unrestricted. He would do anything for us. He would make any sacrifice for us. Peter couldn't understand this. He protested because he wanted to put a limit on the Lord's sacrifice, and thus on His love. He thought in the way of the world. It would take time for Peter to learn the demands of Christianity, the demands of true love.
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them: "If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my steps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
You folks have made sacrificial love your lifestyle. Your house might appear to be that ideal dollhouse with the white picket fence, but inside the washing machine is on constant run and the floor continually needs to be cleaned. You don’t look at your children at Sunday Mass, all dressed nicely and some even clean after the dangerous trip from the car to the Church, and say, “Gosh, I wish they didn’t take so much work.” No, you look at them and have a special love for them when they look their best. This is just a slight way of demonstrating how you enjoy the fruits of sacrificial love. There are many husbands here who once had dreams of owning a large boat, and driving a sports car, but who now are quite happy that they can transport their family safely in that SUV. They don’t resent their family for the sacrifices a family entails. They love their family by making these sacrifices.
The husband and wife who know when to be supportive, when to close their eyes to minor differences and who know what issues must be confronted so their marriage can continue to grow, know how to sacrifice their preferences for the sake of their love.
When Jesus says, “take up your cross,” he is not just referring to major sacrifices like accepting martyrdom. He is also referring to the daily sacrifices of love that animate our lives.
None of us want to suffer. If we did there would be something wrong with us. But if we really love, than we are willing to accept suffering, and deny ourselves so that our love might grow deeper.
It is true that the concept of sacrificial love is completely opposed to the mind set of a self-centered society. Therefore this morning we ask God to give us all the ability and the courage to love and love well.