The announcement that he is the Messiah is followed by Jesus’s firm injunction forbidding his disciples to reveal this to anyone. Even more, Jesus foretells his suffering and death in Jerusalem, a prediction so uncomfortable, that Peter importunes him not to speak like that – and earns a very severe rebuke from his Master ( – and this too, a short while after he had been praised and called ‘the Rock’!).
What is revealed now is the ‘cost of discipleship’ (the title of a well known book by the German theologian Bonhoeffer). It means that the disciple must follow Jesus by disowning himself and take up his cross. Everyone knew what ‘carrying one’s cross’ implied: they had seen brigands and political prisoners dragging their cross to the place of execution in this most shameful and painful of Roman punishments. But what does giving up of one’s self mean? How does one disown oneself? It meant that the self has no value in front of God’s will. Therefore what God wants must always take precedence over what our natural inclination would be.
Our natural inclination is to expand the claims of self through wealth and power, through knowledge and influence or “to win the whole world” as the Gospel terms it. It often happens that in doing so we give up what God wants of us. We lose sight of our “true self” in the pursuit of temporal ambition. So, the Gospel asks, of what use is it to win the whole world at the cost of our true self?
The reward for clinging to our true self will come to us at the end of time, when we are acknowledged and praised by Christ in glory and in the company of his angels – a symbolic way of saying that this fulfillment is the result of being true to ourselves, in spite of the difficulties and sufferings – the need to “carry one’s cross daily” – encountered in this life.
These predictions of his forthcoming passion which Jesus makes, and by implication, the kind of life his disciple is called to, will be repeated again and again on Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem. This actual journey had a deeper meaning – it indicated the purpose of Jesus’s life. Not fame and power, but a painful and infamous death, which God would transform into a life-giving experience, the resurrection.