Losing Your Life for Christ’s Sake
“Anyone who loses his life for my sake… will save it.”
Pierre Claverie (Clav’er aye) was born in Algeria in 1938. He grew up in a loving family of French people who had settled in Algeria. He said he lived in a “colonial bubble,” in other words, completely cut off from the majority Arab population. As a young man he was called to the priesthood and joined the Dominicans in France. Despite the political upheavals, he wanted to return and serve in Algeria. He steeped himself in the Arab culture, learning the language and living close to the people. He wanted to bear witness to Christ’s call to reconciliation between races.
In 1981, Pierre Claverie (Clav’er ee) was made Bishop of Oran. Christians in the region were few in number and surrounded by a dominant Muslim population. As Muslim fundamentalists became more powerful, Christians were threatened and several members of religious orders were assassinated. (Clav’er ee) became increasingly aware of the danger he was in, but in this situation he also deepened his understanding of the cross. He did not leave but stayed to bear witness to the love and mercy of Jesus and his promise of eternal life. In 1996 Bishop Pierre Claverie (Clav’er ee) and his Muslim driver were blown up by a terrorist bomb.
Today we hear Peter’s confession of Faith from St. Luke’s gospel. Previously, Jesus had begun His ministry by proclaiming the kingdom of God. He called disciples to follow Him and then revealed to them, by His miracles, His exorcisms and His teaching, what God’s reign meant. He had aroused opposition in Nazareth early on when He said that God was as much concerned about saving Gentiles as Jews. The disciples had discounted this and were dazzled by His supernatural powers.
Now, in today’s Gospel, Jesus questions His disciples about His true identity; and so, having heard what the crowds say about Him, He asks them who they think He is. Peter speaks up with the correct answer: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. But Jesus needs to qualify this answer by adding a truth which the disciples will not welcome. The disciples shared the popular expectation of a Messiah who would bring Israel salvation by defeating their enemies by force. But are power and violence the answer? Jesus had already put behind Him that satanic temptation in the desert.
Jesus now tells them that He will be a Messiah who will certainly give life through being raised after three days. But that life will come through suffering, rejection by the authorities and the shame of the cross. Jesus says this not because He likes suffering but because unless He tackles the root cause of sin, He cannot bring about a genuine salvation. He has to reject the spiral of violence which is part of the Jewish nationalist dream for liberation. What He offers in its place is a self-giving love, a sacrificial love that has the power to touch those who gaze upon the cross through the eyes of faith. It is a love that, through the power of the resurrection, can unite and not divide. Jesus knows His death is inevitable but now He needs to tell his disciples that they must follow on the same path – only by risking their life for his sake will they gain it.
My brothers and sister in Christ, like the disciples, we sometimes get used to Jesus’ company. We too are dazzled by his miracles and his teaching. We are used to seeing the cross as a decoration on the church wall or as a piece of jewelry. We have heard his words about the cross many times before.
But let’s today try to hear those words anew, as if we were hearing them for the very first time. Is what he says true? Must we risk losing our life in order to gain it? Can’t we just carry on in the same old way, where our religion does not really make many demands on us but gives us consolation? Surely we can save our life but not lose it?
At some stage each one of us will be called to live out the promises of our baptism, which call us to die with Christ in order to live with him. It may not be as dramatic a choice as was faced by Bishop Pierre Claverie (Clav’er ee), life or death, but it may involve a choice against racism, status-seeking, the worship of money; or it may mean making the hard decision to follow the moral and social teaching of the Church when the society around us may ridicule us for it. Then we can make the choice for ourselves: do we really believe in Christ’s words, that losing our life for his sake will bring us true life?
Mary, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us!
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Sunday, June 19th 2016
Zechariah 12:10-11 Galatians 3:26-29 Luke 9:18-24