Year A 22nd Sunday: Matthew 16:21-27

16:21   From then onwards Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples

that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously

at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes

and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.

16:22   Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke him.

'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.'

16:23   But he turned and said to Peter,

'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path,

because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.'

16:24   Then Jesus said to his disciples,

'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine,

let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.

16:25   Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it;

but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

16:26   What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life?

Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life?

16:27   For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels,

and then he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’

Context & Information

Immediately after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah Jesus makes it clear that he will be a different Messiah. Not a Messiah who would transform the world into a paradise instantly, as the Jewish tradition would have it. No, Jesus had found in the tradition that the Messiah would go the way of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (52:13-53:12). He would obtain the glory after having suffered.

Peter tries to make Jesus change his mind. Jesus’ reaction is extremely strong: You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.'

Peter must have touched the heart of Jesus’ inspiration.


Jesus explains: ‘Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’ Jesus is not speaking about our biological life, but about our ‘soul’, that ‘spot’ in our personality where my relation with God is located. What was Jesus’ soul? To save people, to show that his Father is a God of mercy and grace and not a God of wrath and revenge as his religious contemporaries taught. He would find those same religious contemporaries in his path to obtain his ‘soul’. They would make him a Suffering Servant. He knew it. In the foregoing chapters of Matthew’s Gospel we heard already several times how they reacted to Jesus’ way of life.

For Jesus the most important question must have been: ‘Will I be able to maintain my ‘soul’ (my vocation to save people) when it will be at the expense of my own health, my own life? Precisely when it is at the expense of my own life I have to show that mercy, forgiveness and grace are more important than that.

Son of Man

It is remarkable that Jesus calls himself ‘Son of Man’. That refers to the vision in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament (7:13-14). ‘One like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven and he came up to the Ancient of Days (= God) and was brought before him. And there was given him dominion and honour and kingship...’ That was the image that Jesus saw before him when he called himself ‘Son of Man’ (cfr. Matthew 26:64!).

Jesus saw himself as the combination of three images from the Old Testament: Messiah, Suffering Servant and Son of Man. Unknowingly Peter tried to remove the image of the Suffering Servant. But as each of us knows: that image is essential. Because each of us goes the way of the suffering servant from time to time. And here Jesus is our guide. Whenever it may happen, bear that cross, and hold on to mercy, forgiveness, grace. They will have the final say over us.

Picture Mediation


The artist places Jesus in the centre of his painting. In the foreground I see three disciples listening to Jesus. What is the effect of the contrasting colours?

Jesus points to what will happen to him in Jerusalem: to be judged and condemned as a naked man by the religious leaders, here pictured as a bishop, a cardinal and an scholar or a vice-chancellor.

He will be crucified. And he will rise from the dead.

Peter, unknowingly inspired by an evil spirit, tries to make Jesus change his mind.

The artist has caught the moment when Jesus hears Peter’s words.

What feelings can I read in Jesus’ face?

What is the expression of Peter’s gesture?

What feelings are expressed in his eyes and in his hand?

I look at all the hands and try to find words for what they are saying.

What is my place in the picture?

Am I a listening disciple? Am I Peter? Did I ever touch the vocation of other people?

Can I feel with Jesus? Where there moments in my life that people touched my vocation?

Did I ever meet somebody for whom love and forgiveness were more important than their pain and suffering?

I finish with a talk with one of the disciples, with Peter, with Jesus...

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J