Last Sunday, St. Peter was a great example for the transforming power of grace. This Sunday, St. Peter is a great example of what happens when one doesn’t swap for grace.
The conversation of today’s Gospel is actually a continuation of last Sunday’s… the one in which Peter recognizes Jesus as the Christ and is made head of the apostles.
Now that Jesus has officially confirmed that he is the Promised Messiah, he explains to the Twelve what he must do to redeem mankind. He must suffer greatly, die and then be raised on the third day.
Let’s take a second and put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes for a moment. Every good Jewish man knew the Scriptures very well; even those who didn’t get a lot of formal schooling were always educated according to the customs of their faith. The Jewish had been waiting for thousands of years for the Messiah. Now, in the company of these Jewish men, the Messiah sat and spoke with them in the flesh… the one whom all their ancestors had pined for… and he’s telling them that he is going to suffer an excruciating death and leave them.
It’s easy to imagine the confusion that must have taken place; you can almost hear the crickets chirping in response to Jesus’ announcement. No one speaks… and Peter takes Jesus aside. It’s not something he is blurting out… he has thought this through. He opposes his master, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
It’s said out of love for Jesus… but this statement is basically the poster-child for the human misunderstanding of the Christian life.
We Don’t Like to Suffer
When I was nine years old, my youngest brother was born with Down syndrome. I remember being confused, and angry. It was the first time I was ever mad at God: “We’re good people…” I thought, “We’re good Catholics… how could you let something like this happen to us?” I knew God could do anything… why would he let my mom go into premature labor? Why would he let my brother have an extra chromosome, faulty intestines and holes in his heart? Scripture is full of stories in which God fights for his people and does miraculous things… why didn’t he do that for us now?!
In the First Reading today, we see that Jeremiah felt the same way: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped….” God’s plan for Jeremiah’s life had led to a lot of unpopularity for the prophet. Sure, he was famous… but he was famous for bringing doom and gloom. The people hated him. Throughout his ministry, he received multiple death threats and was beaten and imprisoned repeatedly. He had been obedient to God… and this is where it had gotten him. No wonder he felt duped.
I felt duped when Max was born… I felt like I had been handed a big bag of misfortune. I could relate to St. Teresa of Avila when she said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies!”
We think suffering is bad… and it is. God didn’t make us to suffer… it’s something our first parents chose. They ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; had they not… we would never have experienced evil or known suffering. Based on that, it makes sense that our automatic response to suffering is rejection.
That’s why St. Peter forbids Jesus to die. Knowing how incredible it is that Jesus is the Messiah, he doesn’t want for him to undergo that sort of pain. He’s the Messiah, he must be exempt, he must be meant for something better– right?
The next words out of Jesus’ mouth make things very clear: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s rather ironic how in a matter of five verses, Jesus has gone from referring to Peter as the rock… to referring to him as Satan. This is the difference that grace makes.
Swapping out our human weaknesses for God’s grace makes us “a rock”– a steady stronghold of faith. One who knows that no matter what storms or battles life may bring, God will use it to transform us into a better, stronger, and happier version of ourselves.
Whether it’s a fortunate thing, or an unfortunate thing, to be a Christian means to suffer. Jesus makes it clear that his disciples must deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow him. It may be big or small depending on the time and season of our lives, but it certainly isn’t the end of our story… just as his suffering and death were not the end of his story.
If we stay close to Jesus, only a resurrection can come from our daily sufferings and “deaths”. Until then, I leave you with this thought from St. Francis De Sales to help you embrace your cross:
The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity
the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart.
This cross He now sends you
He has considered with His all-knowing eyes,
understood with His Divine mind,
tested with His wise justice,
warmed with loving arms
and weighed with His own hands
to see that it be not one inch too large
and not one ounce too heavy for you.
He has blessed it with His holy Name,
anointed it with His consolation,
taken one last glance at you and your courage,
and then sent it to you from heaven,
a special greeting from God to you,
an alms of the all-merciful love of God.