“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 14:24).
Peter said, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee;” and was told, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:22-23).
For Jesus was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke, but, willing also more abundantly to show both the extravagance of what Peter had said, and the benefit of His passion, He says “Thy word to me is: Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee.
“But my word to thee is: Not only is it hurtful to thee, and destructive, to hinder me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.”
Thus, lest they should think His suffering unworthy of Him…, He teaches them the gain thereof. Thus in John first, He says: “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24)….
He does not bring forward the statement that it is meet to die concerning Himself only, but concerning them also: “for so great is the profit thereof, that in your case also unwillingness to die is grievous, but to be ready for it, good.”
[…] See how He also makes His discourse unexceptionable, not saying at all “whether you will, or no, you must suffer this” but “if any man will come after me.”
He says “I force not, I compel not, but each one I make lord of his own choice; wherefore also I say if any man will.
“For to good things do I call you, not to things evil, or burdensome; not to punishment and vengeance, that I should have to compel. Nay, the nature of the thing is alone sufficient to attract you.”
Speaking thus, He drew them unto Him the more. For he indeed that uses compulsion often turns men away, but he that leaves the hearer to choose attracts him more. For soothing is a mightier thing than force.
Wherefore even He Himself said, “If any man will.” “For great,” says He, “are the good things which I give you, and such as for men even to run to them of their own accord. For neither if one were giving gold, and offering a treasure, would he invite with force.
“And if that invitation be without compulsion, much more this, to the good things in the Heavens. Since if the nature of the thing persuade thee not to run, thou art not worthy to receive it at all, nor if thou shouldest receive it, wilt thou well know what thou hast received.”
Wherefore Christ compels not, but urges, sparing us. For since they seemed to be murmuring much, being secretly disturbed at the saying, He says “there is no need for disturbance or for trouble.
“If ye do not account what I have mentioned to be a cause of innumerable blessings, even when befalling yourselves, I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him do I call.”
John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Gospel According to St Matthew, 55 (on Matthew 16:24ff); slightly adapted.