In today’s gospel Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying he is. They say in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” He then asks them who they think he is. Peter says to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” This is correct but Peter, and many others, have beliefs about the anointed one very different from Jesus’ own purpose as the Messiah.
He frequently was annoyed with his followers because their expectations didn’t always match his own purpose or reason for acting in a specific way. This is obvious in the reading when Jesus predicts his suffering, death and resurrection and Peter rebukes him for saying that. Jesus’ response is very clear when he gathers the crowd with his disciples and says to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Being truly human, Jesus knows that suffering is part of the human condition. His life is no exception. He knows he will suffer and die, but he also knows that suffering has value and it can make us stronger if we deal with it as mature adults. Suffering is part and parcel of all created life, and especially is constitutive of Christian life if we are motivated to use it positively.
Suffering is no stranger to all of us when we think of our world today. Just the number of people who lost loved ones to the pandemic is staggering. The same is true for deaths and suffering caused by gun violence. Hunger and starvation have to be included as well. Cancer and other serious illnesses are familiar in many families. How do we react to these? Are we constant complainers and make life miserable for everyone around us? Do we suffer in silence as the strong ones who need no one else? Are we the ones who grow stronger because of how we live through the painful times in our lives?
There is no denying that suffering of any kind is difficult, but it’s important to realize that we are who we are by what is inside us rather than by exterior factors. If we have a strong faith, or even are struggling to believe, it’s important to know that God does not abandon us in the midst of our suffering. As Jesus does in the gospel, can we deny ourselves, take up the crosses we have to bear and be willing to lose our lives in whatever form that might take? In other words, can we grow through them?
There is an old church saying that still has value – Offer it up! We can’t stop the suffering but if we consciously offer what we are experiencing for someone else’s needs it can take on value. Just as Jesus suffered for us, we can use our suffering for the needs of others.
Do you question why your life may seem like it is full of pain and suffering? How do you deal with that?
What benefits have you experienced from suffering in your life?