22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

This is the last weekend at Saratoga, so I thought I would share one of my favorite stories of my Dad.  He had one week off a year and spent it going with his friends to Saratoga and the races with his buddies.  He was never too proficient.  He use to claim that the escalator of the clubhouse was named after him because he lost so much there.

The guys all had rules and one of them was never to bet too much on a steeplechase race because you could never know what would happen during the jumps.  But one day they got a tip from the outrider for the horses on this one particular race.  They were told he was the most outstanding horse by far so they all bet a lot on him.  And sure enough, the horse leads after every jump.   He clears the last jump and is ten lengths in front of the field coming down the stretch, a clear winner, when suddenly, he jumps over the inside hedge of the track and proceeds to run into the lake at which point my father’s friend yelled, “That horse swims better than it runs!”

Now what does that have to do with the Gospel? Let’s see.

Today’s Gospel picks up the same scene as last week’s in which St. Peter was triumphant.  When Jesus had asked whom did they say he was, Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  A thrilled Jesus acknowledges his divine insight and makes him the rock upon which he will build his church.  Now Jesus unpacks for his disciples what it means to be the Messiah.  It means facing the religious and political leaders; it means torture and ridicule; it means the cross and death.  Newly empowered and newly emboldened, Peter does not like where this is headed.  He takes Jesus aside so that he may rethink all of this.  “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  And Jesus rebukes this newly named rock mightily.  “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  At that moment, Peter realizes two things.  He has picked the right horse – Jesus is the Messiah – and that horse just jumped into a lake.

Peter was thinking along the lines of most of us – success entails winning.  As a culture, we are addicted to winning, to its spoils and to all that comes with it.  It is how we identify our heroes and Peter had wanted nothing less for Jesus.  He had pictured an unsoiled march of triumph through Jerusalem where everyone would acknowledge, admire and adore the Savior.  But that is not what Messiahship means to Jesus.  Being the Son of God did not separate him from his people.  It tied him to them. He would not be a Savior to stand in one spot and demand that everyone come to him, but he would meet us where we are.  He did not promise only sunny days, but to slog through the mud with us.  He did not say he would lift every burden, but told us to pick up our cross every day.   For the cross means love and that is the horse Jesus chose to ride.

Winning is a straight line with easily identified parameters and trappings.  Love is, of course, a more torturous route.  Love means rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.   It means standing up for those who are put down and speaking out for those who are silenced.  It does not allow callousness in the face of pain so we must suffer with our brothers and sisters in Houston.  No one is ignored; everyone is precious.

With apologies to all my Green Bay Packer backers, Aaron Rodgers said something that upset me the other day.  He said that organized religion closes the mind and the heart.  Nothing has ever opened my mind and heart like trying to love like Jesus.  To see Christ in all people. To care for everyone.  To struggle and delight with my brothers and sisters. This is the path of Christ.  It is what it means to pick up your cross and follow a Savior.  Love is the way of our God.