“Speak friend, and enter.” Gandalf and the Fellowship of the Ring were stuck at the doors of Moria. The door couldn’t be seen except in starlight and moonlight and unless the password was spoken, it didn’t open. The journey itself was long, uncertain with an unknown evil lurking in the darkness ahead of them, but they were desperate and out of options. Gandalf pondered and pondered, trying different words in different combinations, but couldn’t figure it out. Finally Frodo asked him what the Elvish word for “friend” was. When Gandalf spoke it, the doors began to open. On a lesser level, this demonstrates the need for correct punctuation: “Speak ‘friend’ and enter,” but on a greater level it shows us how our preconceptions can keep us from important realizations.
This week’s Gospel reading picks up from last week’s, and Peter falls from his perch: last week he’s a hero and this week he’s zero. Satan didn’t mean then what it means now, Jesus defines it himself when He says Peter is an obstacle to Him. Jesus has told them the future, and it shouldn’t be a surprise in some ways: his message means embracing danger, because it’s a threat to the established order. They’re there to lay low for a while, since Jesus has been in the middle of controversy in Nazareth, where he was rejected and John the Baptist’s death takes place just before this story. Peter goes into protection mode, and he’s thinking about maintaining the organization in the face of opposition. Jesus is telling them He has to go through a dark, frightening and uncertain place, and Peter doesn’t want to. He’s thinking the way a lot of folks would think: keep the leader alive and well, and the cause will succeed. He But he’s wrong because following Jesus isn’t about keeping or protecting or even self-preservation, it’s about something else. Following Jesus is about putting others first, and seeing a different set of priorities. Jesus is going to model that by submitting to a degrading death first, in order to rise from it to new life. Peter didn’t get it at first, it wasn’t until Easter Sunday morning in the Garden he started to understand.
What preconception do we have about Christ today? Our temptation is to see Jesus as Peter did, to impose our own ideas on Jesus and make Him what we want Him to be. Like Gandalf at the door, we can get stuck in our logic and preconceptions. We can forget that faith doesn’t make everything easy, and there are ties we have to make long, uncertain and frightening journeys in the dark like Jesus and His disciples did. We can put self-preservation above everything else, which the Church has done to tragic effect over time, and excuse ourselves from charity and generosity if we think someone has offended Christ or his teaching. American has always tended to make Christianity American rather than the other way around, which is no different than any other time and place in history.
Taking up Jesus’ Cross means laying aside a lot of things, perhaps everything we have, everything we treasure, every opinion or way of knowing. Accepting the Christ who walks the road of Calvary means a radical honesty, a full commitment, an unconditional model of charity beyond what we may understand or outside our own personal logic of justice.
Taking the Eucharist is taking up our Cross, taking up the vision of the kingdom, by the light of the Gospel. Taking the Eucharist is accepting the suffering servant who died and rose, the one who lays his life down rather than protects it. Taking the Eucharist means making Christ more than our savior, it means making him our companion, our mentor, our role model, our way of seeing the world. Taking the Eucharist means seeing the universe through Christ’s eyes, and responding to it with Christ’s compassion.