Today, we continue the gospel reading of last Sunday, wherein Jesus acknowledged Peter as the “rock” on which he would build his Church. After just a few verses, the scene changed completely. JesussharplyrebukedPeter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
What happened? After appointing Peter as head of the Church, Jesus revealed his intention of going to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die in the hands of the Jewish authorities and rise on the third day. On hearing this, Peter took Jesus aside and tried to dissuade him from proceeding to Jerusalem. For all his good intentions, Peter was standing in the way of Jesus, who was set to fulfill the Father’s mission. Unwittingly, he was tempting Jesus to take the easy way, just as the devil tried to do in the desert by offering Jesus the kingdom without the cross. That is why Jesus told Peter to get behind him. From being a rock-foundation, Peter had turned into a stumbling block.
We cannot totally blame Peter for preventing Jesus from taking the road to Jerusalem. In the face of suffering, our natural tendency is to avoid it. Our first reading recounts Jeremiah’s own resistance to the suffering that came with his mission.
We know that suffering is part and parcel of life; it is a given. Scott Peck opens his best-selling book, The Road Less Travelled, with the famous line, “Life is difficult.” We can take suffering philosophically as something unavoidable, as something we just have to live with. After all,ours is not only an imperfect but a fallen world, damaged by original sin. Such attitude may keep us from becoming bitter and even help us attain some level of peaceful resignation.
Jesus however offers us a deeper meaning and purpose of suffering. He invites us to think as God thinks. Peter recoiled at the thought that Jesus would suffer and die in Jerusalem because he stopped just there. His sight was short and dead-ended. The fullness of the Father’s plan would go beyond the passion and death of his Son. Peter could not see that the cross would lead to the resurrection and that love is stronger than death.
What saved us from sin and death was not the cross per se, but the love of the Father who sent his only-begotten Son to be our ransom. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Is 53:5)
Jesus did not die a hapless victim of his enemies’ envy, much less a helpless hostage of Satan’s power. Jesus gave up his life freely in obedience to the Father, who “loves the world so much that he sent his only Son so that [we]… may not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
Suffering takes on value and meaning when it is borne for love and becomes the price of love. With the pandemic and its cruel effects on our life, our suffering may have become almost insurmountable. Our gospel today challenges us to think as God thinks, and to see his plan beyond the present cross we bear.
In his novel, The Ball and the Cross, G.K. Chesterton tells the story of a man who was allergic to the cross. He began by removing the crosses in his house and forbidding his wife from wearing one. One moonlit night, he climbed the steeple of the church and tore down its cross. As he walked on his way home, he suddenly envisioned the kilometric fence along the road as an endless row of crosses linked together. Driven by a diabolical delirium, he knocked them all down. On arriving home, he threw himself in bed, totally exhausted. As he gazed on the ceiling above him, it dawned on him that it was made up of numerous beams crossing each other. He rose and burned his house for it was a house made of crosses. Early next morning, they found his body floating in the river.
Eradicating the cross from life can lead to eradicating life itself. But it doesn’t have to be so. One of the highlights of the Good Friday liturgy occurs when the cross is brought in and is gradually unveiled, while the priest sings the invitatory, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.”
Without Christ, the cross is but an instrument of torture and death. With Christ, the cross is the highest expression of God’s love, and becomes the source of salvation and the font of life.*