A week after first reading the propers for a Sunday (in this case, Proper 17, to be used on August 31st), my custom is to consult exegetical commentaries to get an academic take on the readings. I've already decided to focus on the gospel this time (Matthew 16:21-28), so I didn't do any exegetical work on the other readings. That should have happened last week, but other exigencies intervened. That's why I stretch out the process! Here's what I distilled from the commentaries:
- From a literal historical perspective, Jesus expected the sort of tribulation that any prophet should expect (pace today’s OT reading), and also eventual (speedy?) vindication by God as part of a general resurrection of all the righteous. The post-Easter church then modified these statements by making them specific references to the Passion as they remembered it.
- Peter’s response is an expression of his representative role, and is a theological, not merely a personal objection to what Jesus has just said. He has a wrong idea of what messiahship is.
- “Get behind” does not mean “Go away!” but “Fall in!” (See Gk. formula as “follow me”). “’Behind me’ is not mere location, but the posture of a disciple. Jesus is going to the cross; a disciple is to follow.”
- “Jesus’ mission is to inaugurate an alternative kingdom, a radically way of exercising rulership and authority. Here his opponent is none other than the rock on which he will build the new community. … Despite his revelation from God, Peter continues to think as good human beings are accustomed to think: reasonably, egocentrically, and in terms of human friendship and ‘success.’”
- Re taking up the cross: “These words are not an invitation to discipleship for outsiders, but reflection on the meaning of discipleship for those who have already responded to the call of Christ.”
- “Matthew’s church was aware that some had already been martyred, including by crucifixion. In view of the shortness of time before the parousia, Matthew anticipates that the eschatological tribulation will intensify; so the call for disciples to take up their cross can be understood quite literally in this situation.”
- “To [take up one’s cross] in following Jesus signifies open allegiance to Jesus the Crucified One. Such allegiance will expose one to the hostility of the world and entail the risk of losing one’s life as he lost his.”
- This pericope follows immediately on the heels of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah. Now it is appropriate for Jesus to explain just what messiahship entails, not only for the Messiah, but for the Messiah’s followers.
- “We are to understand that Jesus’ death was so central to God’s plan that to try to avoid it was to do the work of none less than the evil one himself.”
- “Jesus is not saying that anyone who focuses on his own selfish concerns will be punished by having his life taken from him. He is saying that, by the very fact that he concentrates on his own selfish concerns, that person has lost life in the best and fullest sense.”
- “For Matthew, it is the Church that will be judged—a theme that he hammers home again and again, right up to the parable of the sheep and the goats. The Church will be judged according to the fidelity of its discipleship, even at the cost of taking up the cross and following Jesus, in its readiness to lose its life for his sake.”