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Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Today’s Readings

Psalm 26: 1-8, Jeremiah 15: 15-21, Romans 12: 9-end, Matthew 16: 21-end

I remember many years ago watching the film ‘A Man for All Seasons’, starring Paul Scofield. It was the story of Thomas Moore and his fall from favour with Henry VIII, over his refusal to sign the annulment of the marriage of Henry to Catherine of Aragon. Moore, being a good Roman Catholic could not agree to it, but he remained silent on the subject. He was brought to trial, in the end, because his clerk Richard Rich was bribed into betraying his master by saying he had heard Moore speaking against the annulment. The scene I remember so well is when Rich is leaving the courtroom, passing by Thomas Moore, who says to him, “Richard it is bad enough for a man to sell his soul for the whole world, but for Wales?” This was the prize for Rich’s betrayal of Moore.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew we have just heard the origins of those lines, when Jesus says,

“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forfeit their life?”

Jesus has just asked his disciples who they think he is? A question that they must have heard many people around them ask, and one that they must also have often asked themselves. This man who had suddenly appeared into their lives, and turned those simple lives upside down. This man who did amazing things and yet was so unreal and removed from those everyday lives that they used to know.

It was as usual Peter, as the proverbial “bull in a china shop”, who leapt in where others feared to tread.

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God”. Yet Jesus tells them, not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

For Peter is right to call Jesus the Messiah, but Jesus is not the kind of Messiah that the Jewish people, or indeed at this moment the disciples, are expecting to come as their savour, to free them from Roman rule.

Then Jesus begins to teach his disciples, as we have just heard, what being “the Son of Man” was really to mean, and the path of suffering that he would have to tread. Again, it is Peter who plunges in, taking Jesus aside, and you can imagine him saying, “No, no, no this won’t do, we can’t have this kind of talk, it is bad for morale”. Jesus quickly puts Peter down, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me”.

It is here that we get to the crux of the matter, the choice that has to be made. A choice that remains the same today as it did all those thousand of year ago. Jesus tells the crowd around him, as well as his disciples,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.

Denying Jesus, by rejecting his pathway, may save physical life but eternal life will be lost.

“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forfeit their life?”

Paul in his letter to the church in Rome is at his most forthright in his instructions; “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection;” “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all”.

For as Paul reminds his readers, it is God who makes the final judgement.

Jesus himself said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned”.

We will all make mistakes, we will all at times, like Peter, mean well in what we say without always thinking of the full implications of our words or their meaning to someone else. We see today how different people view the words “migrants” and “refugees”, two words that may seem the same to us, but can cause much hurt and offence to people to whom they refer. Human speech and writing, as we hear and read on a daily basis, has a huge potential for good and ill. The untameable tongue, or ill thought action, can set things ablaze, as we so often see happen.

To take up “your cross” as Christians and follow in the path of Christ, in both word and action, is as challenging today as it was for those first disciples. For many Christians today it is still the pathway to persecution and even death in many parts of the world, although we in this country, in this place are fortunate that this is seldom the case. Yet we must still take care that in both word and actions, we as Christians are not tempted by the rewards of this world, of this present life, to the cost and depredation of the next.


Michael Tonkin

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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