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The obstacle of suffering

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Gospel Commentary Mt 16:21-27


Every Sunday, we affirm the tenets of our Catholic faith when we recite them with our parish community in the Creed. While we do not have time to ponder their meaning in that brief moment, it is always fruitful to spend time reflecting on them and entering into the truths that define our beliefs and provide our hope. For example, at the end of the Creed, we say, “I look forward to the Resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.” It is worthy to note that we do not say, “I believe” in the Resurrection of my body and eternal life, but instead, “I look forward” to it. It is something that offers me hope. It is a cause of my joy as a Christian.


In our Gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus Christ announcing that He will rise from the dead. Knowing what we know now about this promise, we would think that this news would bring great joy to His Apostles. The Son of God will defeat death and be raised to life again, which will lead to our own Resurrection and eternal life.


Yet, as we hear, that was not the response. In fact, the response of the Apostles, through the voice of Peter, did not mention the promise of the Resurrection at all. One reason is that the Apostles had no experience with the Resurrection as we do today. It was harder for them to grasp what Jesus meant when He said he would be raised from the dead. A bigger reason they were not filled with joy is because they focused on the events surrounding the Resurrection, that is, the suffering and death of Our Lord.


When Peter heard that Jesus “must suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed,” his response was, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” While focusing on the suffering of Jesus, Peter completely missed the promise, “and on the third day (the Son of Man would) be raised.” Peter missed the promise of the Resurrection because he was repulsed by the unjust suffering of Our Lord. Jesus was perfectly good, doing nothing to deserve suffering. Not only that, but Peter had just confessed that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and Peter could not imagine the Messiah, God’s Son sent to save the Israelites, would be subject to such torture and death.


Jesus’ response to Peter was swift and what we might consider overly harsh. Our Lord rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.”


In the severity of His words we see the error that Peter was committing. It is a common, yet incorrect, belief that if we are holy and sacred, we will not suffer because this would be unjust. As Jesus says, this is how human beings thought in Peter’s time, and it is still present among us today, even among the faithful. There is a misconception that if we remain faithful to God, He will remain faithful to us and reward us in this life and the next. While this is true, we also know that with discipleship comes suffering. After rebuking Peter, Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The cross is part of discipleship. Suffering cannot be separated from our salvation.


Peter learned this lesson at his own crucifixion in Rome, when he shared the same death as His Savior. His suffering made him a martyr, which is the Greek word for witness, for the faith. How we bear our suffering shows the depth of trust we have in God, for in faith we know that while Jesus promises crosses for those who follow Him, He knows that these crosses can sanctify us if we bear them willingly as Our Lord did.


May we pray that we do not fall into the Evil One’s trap of believing that suffering is reserved for the unjust and see it instead as the cross that unites us to Jesus and His promise of eternal life. In this way, we can focus on the promises of Jesus even amidst the troubles that often surround us.


Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017