To deny oneself and take up the cross is an exaltation of pain? No,

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


«Through every event, whatever may be its non-divine character, a road passes that leads to God" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Resistance and surrender)










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The football championship has begun that, as enthusiasts know, It is preceded in the summer by the preparation that the teams do in retreat to try out schemes and tactics without revealing too much to their opponents, as it often happens, every major event is preceded by a time of waiting and silence. In a certain way it is also what happened to Jesus when he began a new stage in his life and mission. He asked his people not to reveal who he was, even though Pietro had just confessed it. I then report the passage from the Gospel of this one twenty-second Sunday weather for a year, with the initial addition of the verse 20 of the chapter 16 of Matthew which is not present in the liturgical passage:

Masaccio, Jesus paying the tribute, 1425 circa, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

«(Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.) From then on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer a lot from the elders, of the chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be resurrected on the third day. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying: “God forbid, man; this will never happen to you". But he, turning around, he said to Pietro: «Go after me, Satan! You are a scandal to me, because you think is not God, but man!”. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, disown yourself, take up his cross and follow me. Because who wants to save their life, will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake, You shall find. For what advantage will a man have if he gains the whole world?, but he will lose his life? Or what a man can give in exchange for his life? Because the Son of man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he will repay each one according to his deeds." (Mt 16, 20 – 27).

Jesus had just asked, to those who evidently knew a lot about him at that point, who he was to them (Mt 16, 15). Faced with Pietro's beautiful confession he felt he could then explain (literally: show) to his something new about his person and his destiny. Let it be a new beginning, perhaps even a change of perspective and matured awareness occurred in Jesus, the parallelism with Mt 4, 17 which narrates the opening of his ministry after John's arrest: «From then on Jesus began to preach and say». In the initial verse of today's text the evangelist uses the verb 'show' (token by epidemics) which postpones and counteracts the Pharisees' request to show a sign of his authority. The sign shown to them by Jesus will be the story of the prophet Jonah which is decoded to the disciples today:

«An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign! But no sign will be given to her, if not the sign of Jonah the prophet. In fact, as Jonah remained three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of man will remain three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt 12, 39-40).

The identification of Jesus with the figure of the 'Son of man' returns. Initially we talked about hiding and Jesus loved to hide, until after, his deepest identity behind this celestial figure described in biblical literature (Book of Daniel, chapter 71 and in the Jewish apocryphal one (Ethiopian Enoch)2 because this character lives hidden, who is close to God as a hypostasis and who has the task of judging, it represented for him the most suitable image of the Messiah, at least as the most ancient Gospel mainly tells us, Marco's. Despite the different stratifications agreed upon in the evangelical memories, it seems that Jesus literally ran away (cf.. GV 6,15) from the idea of ​​the Messiah descending from David and i.e. linked to power or its restoration. He could accept that the expression 'Son of David' was addressed to him by a blind man (MC 10,47), a poor man therefore who could only know things unless reported by others or by a pagan woman like the Canaanite; but Jesus, preferably identifying himself with the Son of Man, he communicated to the disciples that he was that 'secret messiah' and that from this moment he wanted to lead them towards a full understanding of the thoughts and wills of God regarding this messenger of his. An arduous undertaking, then and now, as witnessed by the episode of Peter. The opening words of today's passage - we have already reported it - are linked to what precedes ('since' – Since then), and corresponding to a new beginning ('began' – it started) they represent not only a change of scene in the text but also a sort of cold shower for the disciples because the moment Jesus announces his destiny of suffering Peter will reject it as an absurdity. The Son of man that Peter in fact knows is a powerful and glorious figure who can only be victorious. The song, despite the apostle's bewilderment, instead it shows how much Jesus was aware of being something more than the Son of Man of Daniel derivation or as he was represented in apocryphal literature, which will require further revelation, disconcerting in its size, that, for this same reason, it would be hard to believe and accept if it came to him. It will therefore be the very voice of God on Tabor, to the Transfiguration, to make this revelation:

"This is my Son, the beloved: I have placed my pleasure in him. listen to him " (Mt 17,5).

The three disciples who will hear this revelation they will know that Jesus by now, of which they had some knowledge, he is the Son of God. It is that 'hidden' in the mystery of God, destined to reveal itself.

In order to understand the density of the text proclaimed this Sunday I would start from the surprising statement that Jesus addressed to his best disciple, Pietro:

«Go after me, Satan! You are a scandal to me, because you think is not God, but man!».

In my opinion it helps us to ward off a couple of pernicious temptations. The first is to be content to ease our conscience, by overturning on others those weaknesses inherent in human nature, therefore ours too, forgetting to look deeper. Maybe even just take a look at the drama on stage if the one moved by a faith capable of penetrating the greatest mystery that writing offers us every time can't.. We will do the same with Judas in the time of the passion and now with Peter who tugs at Jesus ('He took him with him' – and hiring him)3. It is true that Peter made that gesture and said those words («God forbid, man; this will never happen to you"), but the answer that Jesus gave, the response of one who has full awareness of who he was and profound knowledge of where he came from and who sent him, it doesn't even seem to be addressed to Pietro, rather to the one who had hindered him from the beginning by tempting him (cf.. Mt 4). The Lord warned, in the words of the apostle, the adversary's last attempt to block his mission. If He never stopped being patient and understanding towards his disciples, even when he scolded them, on the other hand, he knew very well who he was dealing with and it really posed a stumbling block to his mission. Even if at first sight Jesus does not spare harsh words to Peter: the beneficiary of the Father's revelation is now addressed as 'satan', the recipient of bliss is now a cause for scandal, the rock is now a stumbling block. In Peter these contradictory dimensions coexist, as the possibilities of faith and non-faith coexist in every believer, of understanding and ignorance, of loyalty and abandonment, of humility and arrogance. In particular of faith and sufficiency, of adherence to the Lord and of self-presumption.

The other temptation, maybe even worse, is to devalue the incarnation of the Son of God, as if a divine necessity or an inescapable fate hung on Jesus' words about his destiny, as if the divine will was an overwriting of his human experience with the intent of making Jesus suffer and die so that he could atone for sins as a victim or a sacrifice. A consequence that is true but should be read carefully, while instead it is frequently popular among believers who prefer a devotional and sentimental religiosity, with little desire to confront the world.

In the words of Jesus we understand, instead, all the freshness of an authentic human experience and the discovery of a vocation that corresponds to thatthink according to God that Pietro did not yet have. In the new announcement that Jesus gives and which will resonate twice more (Mt 17, 22-23; 20, 17-19) as he walks towards Jerusalem, the city that "kills the prophets" (Mt 23, 37), He communicates to his people the passion for the world which is the same as that of God: «For God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, because anyone who believes in him is not lost, but have eternal life "4. Jesus knows well that he has solicited hostility with his words and actions and perhaps for this reason he also lingered in the northern part of the country, but the time had come not to postpone the meeting with those powers that can violently take life: a circumstance that those who prayed with the psalms and read the prophets knew well. This is the vocation of Jesus which he recognizes as a necessity – «he had to (because he sees) go to Jerusalem and suffer a lot" (Mt 16,21) – and which he welcomes with the freedom of those who think according to God.

We must be grateful for Peter's gesture which made it possible to remember a saying about the following of the disciple which is influenced by the eschatological tension that animated the preaching of Jesus, so nothing can be postponed since time has become short and this is the moment of decision.

«If anyone wants to come after me, disown yourself, take up his cross and follow me. Because who wants to save their life, will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake, You shall find. For what advantage will a man have if he gains the whole world?, but he will lose his life? Or what a man can give in exchange for his life?»5

Peter has just been sent back by Jesus, in the position of the disciple who follows the master. And if the passion of the Messiah had been announced before, now the disciple's message is communicated by Jesus. These expressions with a Semitic tenor (lose life – find life; earn – find) taken from a legal context, so in a court you can even choose not to defend yourself (deny oneself – take the gallows) just as Jesus will do, they are the way in which the Gospels offer us representations of the human story of Jesus which converge in recognizing their distinctive feature in eschatological faith. A faith concretely experienced as the ultimate and therefore deadly conflict with Satan, to whom the power and glory of all the kingdoms of the ecumene have been entrusted, according to the illuminating passage of the second temptation in Luke's version6. A faith that translates into gestures and words from which the relationship experienced by Jesus with the world shines through with all the desirable clarity, that is, concretely with the company to which they belong: family, Social classes, established powers, power relations between individuals, classes and genders, cultic and cultural expressions. This whole universe of relationships is as if seen from the outside, and certainly not because he was moved by a specific intent to denounce Judaism with a view to building a superior form of religious life, but because the world concretely offered itself to him in the case of the Judaism of his time. What opposes his requirement are Jewish men and institutions to the extent that they consciously or unconsciously recognized themselves in the world.

It is therefore not surprising that this same attitude be requested by Jesus of his followers, with all the disruptions that it entails and therefore also the risks; what is implicitly asked for is an act of moral courage and, if necessary, also physical: "Whoever loses his life because of me will find it" (Mt 10, 39). Courage of a special quality that is also combined with compassion:

«He will not break a reed that is already cracked, he will not quench a dull flame, until justice has triumphed" (Mt 12, 20).

because courage and compassion are inseparable aspects in Jesus of the same figure. In this sense, the invitation addressed to the follower to 'deny himself' had nothing arbitrary or contrary to self-respect. It must be understood as a way, as hard as you want, to make the disciple aware of the gravity of the rupture that Jesus was making: it was not a question of following a religious reformer or a teacher of wisdom, but to recognize in the worldly condition that 'earning authentic life' corresponded to accepting the radical consequences of his preaching.

In the words of Jesus, the resurrection is also prefigured in the end, after suffering and death. The fate of the defeated Messiah7, which will be clear and recognized in faith only after he has regained his life, it will then become part of the heart of the Christian message, as these words of the apostle Paul testify:

«While the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, instead we proclaim Christ crucified: scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the pagans; but for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1Color 1, 22-24).

And finally the mystery of Jesus crucified and risen it will be recognized by the disciples as the true sign of God, because 'thinking according to God' involved Jesus' Easter. He will then be seen as the concentrated word (abbreviated word), for God has spoken only one word, when he spoke in his Son («God once spoke, When He spoke in the Son»”8) and that word was the love that he revealed:

«Before the Easter party, Jesus, knowing that his time had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them until the end" (Gv13,1).

From the Hermitage, 3 September 2023



[1] «Still looking in night visions, behold, one like a son of man is coming with the clouds of heaven; he reached the old man and was presented to him. They were given power, glory and kingdom; all peoples, nations and languages ​​served him: his power is an eternal power,
that will never end, and his kingdom will never be destroyed." (And 7, 13-14)

[2] Chialà S., Book of Parables of Enoch, Paideia, 1997

[3] Mt 16, 22

[4] GV 3, 16

[5] Mt 16, 24, 26

[6] «The devil led him up, showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the earth and told him: “I will give you all this power and their glory, because it was given to me and I give it to whoever I want. Therefore, if you prostrate yourself in adoration before me, everything will be yours" (LC 4, 5-7).

[7] Dianich S., The defeated Messiah, the enigma of Jesus' death, Citadel, 1997

[8] Sant'Ambrogio, cf.. Henri De Lubac, Medieval exegesis, vol. III, Milan, Jaca Book, 1996, pp. 261-262


San Giovanni all'Orfento. Abruzzo, Mount Maiella, it was a hermitage inhabited by Pietro da Morrone, called in 1294 to the Chair of Peter on which he ascended with the name of Celestine V (29 August – 13 December 1294).


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