Cost and Promise: context

Matthew 16:21–27 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. 22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct. 28 Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

From that time on” is a type of marker that indicates one storyline is closing and the sacred author is moving to another. But there also a larger storyline that is beginning to take shape. In the succeeding weeks of Ordinary Time we have heard of mighty deeds as well as what seems to be an initial “sorting out” of those who will or will not commit to discipleship. Perhaps a way to view the context of our readings is outlined here.

Signs of the Kingdom and Messiah

  • Healing and Feeding the Crowds (14:13-21)
  • Walking on Water (14:22-26)
  • Defilement (15:1-20 but not part of the Sunday gospel sequence)
  • The Canaanite Woman (15:21-28)
  • Healing the Feed the People (15:29-39 but not part of the Sunday gospel sequence)
  • The Pharisees Seek a Sign (16:1-12)

Messiah Revealed and a Community Begins to Form

  • Jesus, Messiah; Peter as Rock (16:13-20)

Who Will Follow and What it Means

  • The Cost and Promise of Discipleship (16:21-28 – our Sunday gospel)
  • The Transfiguration (17:1-13)
  • Discipleship and Faith that Moves Mountains (17:13-20)

From that time on” also marks the turning point of the mission in Galilee and from this point on, Jesus and the disciples are moving towards Judea and the city of Jerusalem. This geographical change coincides with the change in the pattern of Jesus’ activity and teaching. Peter’s declaration in v.16 that he is the Messiah leads Jesus to immediately begin to describe the messianic mission with the very plain statement that he must suffer, die and be raised again (v.21 – repeated again in 17:22-23). The entire journey towards Jerusalem will be in the growing shadow of the cross. As we move ahead there are few encounters with crowds and few miracles. The attention is on preparing the disciples to understand, live and promote the radically different values of the Kingdom – as well to prepare them for the “sea change” that will begin in Jerusalem and ripple out to the ends of the earth.

If that places it all in a larger context, perhaps the more immediate context is well described by R.T. France. He labels the reading as a “Glimpse Into the Future: Messianic Suffering and Glory where the “primary emphasis of this first part of the journey narrative is on the declaration that the Messiah must meet with rejection, suffering and death, and that those who follow him must expect to share his fate. But set within this depressing message is a persistent reminder that is not the end of the story. The prediction of 16:21 includes also resurrection on the third day (cf. also 17:9); those who lose their lives do so in order to gain them (16:25–26); the same Son of Man who is to be killed will ‘come in his Father’s glory’ as judge (16:27), and be seen to be king (16:28). [The Gospel of Matthew, 629]

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