Mark 8:31-38 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Reflection In spite of Peter’s (and our) great hope to the contrary, Jesus did not come to put an end to suffering in the world. Jesus came to assure us that God is with each and every one of us as we navigate the inevitable suffering of our human condition. In fact, Jesus came and revealed to us the foolish wisdom that there is blessing to be found in suffering, which of course flies in the face of conventional wisdom that blessing is found in power, control and accumulated success (in the shiny purple robes of a warrior king messiah). Which brings us back to Peter whose conventional idea of a messiah put him cross-ways with Jesus.
Do you remember Jesus’ sermon on the mountain in Matthew’s gospel? “Blessed are… the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, those who are persecuted…(Matt 5.3-6, 10). These words are nonsense to the conventional wisdom of the world. And, they are the wisdom of the foolish in God’s upside down kingdom.
It is not God’s will that we suffer, nor do I believe it was God’s will that Jesus be tortured and hung on a cross. I believe, it is God’s will that we know God’s presence with us in the midst of the suffering that is inevitable to our mortal human condition. The death-dealing blow of the ruthless words from our Ash Wednesday liturgy leap to mind, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Frankly, the process of returning to dust is not for the faint of heart. Whether it comes by disease, accident or the brutality of others who will stop at nothing to extinguish unvarnished truth, there is no escaping the fatal consequence of life. Returning to dust entails suffering. As Christians this does not give us cause to be angry, afraid or despair. As Christians we understand that suffering opens the way for us to encounter God and experience blessedness. This is the way of setting our minds on divine things rather than on human things.
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