Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 16:21–27
You may not know this about me, but I am a royal watcher. I researched their scandals, followed their family drama, and even cried when Queen Elizabeth II died. You can imagine my delight when my children’s babysitter handed me a book with Kate Middleton’s face on it. My family and I were going to the Florida coast, and it would be the perfect beach read.
I started reading the book and loved learning about Kate’s early life. However, something changed as I read about Kate’s romance with Prince William. In case you didn’t know, Prince William has access to all the finest things in life. Each time I read about the couple’s trip to a royal family home or yet another excursion to an exotic island, my desire to chase wildly after the world’s offerings intensified.
Years ago, I had promised God I would not grasp for worldly wealth and success. Instead, I would open my hands and receive whatever He wanted to give. Two hundred pages into this book, I questioned that commitment. I was not tempted to leave my faith, but I was tempted to serve God and the world simultaneously, to trade self-sacrifice for self-service while maintaining a friendship with Jesus. I wanted to keep Christ but lose His cross.
In the Bible, Saint Paul talks about two kinds of wisdom: worldly and Godly.
Worldly wisdom is the belief that gratifying our desires will lead us to ultimate happiness.
Godly wisdom is the belief that God’s knowledge is perfect and His will for us is best. Therefore, seeking to see what God sees and behaving according to His will ultimately leads to flourishing.
The problem is that these two wisdoms cannot coexist. We can’t live by both wisdoms simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. And when we do, it always causes conflict. It caused conflict in my heart as I read about the royals, and it caused friction between Peter and Jesus in this week’s gospel.
Beginning in Matthew 16:21, Jesus began to tell His disciples that He would have to suffer under the Jewish authorities, die, and rise again on the third day. Dismayed by Christ’s words, Peter pulled Him aside and said,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:22–23).
Peter loved Jesus, and his concern was likely genuine. He believed Jesus was the Messiah and had left everything to follow Him. But Peter was taught that the Messiah would be a political leader who would achieve victory through power and conquest. Suffering, humiliation, and death were not supposed to be part of the equation. At the heart of his concern, Peter wanted Christ’s victory without His crucifixion, the glory without the suffering.
Jesus’s response to Peter was more than just a rebuke. It was also an invitation out of man’s wisdom and into God’s. In Matthew 16:24–26, Jesus explained precisely how God’s wisdom works:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 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?”
Ladies, if this sounds upside down to you, it’s because, to our world-steeped ears, it is. The world teaches us that the universe revolves around us. Our fulfillment and happiness are the highest goods. We receive the message that anyone or anything that makes us feel bad should be avoided or eradicated. Suffering has no meaning, and we should pursue comfort at all times. Every day, we live and breathe these messages, so who could blame us for trying to serve God and the world simultaneously? Who could blame us for believing in God but living as though we are the center of the universe? Who could blame us for wanting all of the upside of Christianity with none of the downside?
The only problem is that worldly wisdom is making us unhappy. All it takes is a visit to any news website, no matter the political affiliation, to learn that we are the least happy society in recorded history.
Worldly wisdom is a lie, and its promises are empty.
So then, what about Godly wisdom? How does Jesus’ path to happiness, marked by self-denial, acceptance of suffering, and submission to God’s will, lead to true joy? Because in laying down our lives for His sake, Christ can enter our lives and bring about transformation.
When we submit our will to God’s will, we remove ourselves from the center and allow God to take up space in our hearts, minds, wills, behaviors, and attitudes. The more room we give Him, the more He can transform each part of us to look like Him. His presence enables us to live the lives we’re meant to live, filled with truth and righteousness.
When we accept suffering as Jesus did, He meets us there. He draws near to our hearts, joins our suffering to His, and proves that He can redeem even the worst things in our lives for the sake of His glory and our good.
Godly wisdom might not make sense in light of the world, but His insight is true, and living by it is the only way to receive abundant life.
When I reached the end of the book about the British royal family, I apologized to God. The world might be glamorous, but without Jesus, it is empty. Peter also eventually left man’s side and joined God’s side. Realizing that he could not have Christ without the cross, Peter embraced his suffering when he laid his life down for his Savior as a martyr.
What about you? Are there ways that you are trying to live your faith from the perspective of a worldly mind? At what cost? Choose the understanding of God. Lay down your life for His sake. Accept the cross He offers; it is the only path to true life.
Food for thought or journaling…
If the Lord asks you to submit every part of your life to Him, what is one thing you would want to hold back? Why? Take a moment to imagine what God might want to do in your life if you laid that thing at His feet.
Dear Lord, Please reveal to me how I am trying to live by worldly wisdom while trying to serve You and how it is affecting my life. I give You permission to teach me a new way of thinking and acting. Please give me the grace to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow You, for I know this is the only true path to life. Amen.