SUNDAY, TWENTY FOURTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Is 50: 5-9; Ps 116:1-6, 8-9; Jas 2: 14-18; Mk 8: 27-35
SUFFERING IS THE TRUE CEMENT OF LOVE
Humanly speaking no one welcomes suffering. On the contrary, we try and avoid suffering of all kinds. Since suffering is almost always comprehended negatively, our lives seem miserable and difficult. Yet, suffering is an inevitable part of life. They can never be completely avoided. However, they hold great significance in the lives of those who endeavour to bear with them, after the example of Jesus. For Jesus endured and accepted all kinds of suffering from his birth, through his public life, passion and death on the Cross.
Jesus was fully aware of his forthcoming suffering, persecution and death on the Cross. Thus, he desired to prepare his disciples for what was to come, that they may not be shocked or scandalized. He wanted them to know who he truly was, and to willingly follow him. For this reason, he asked them two questions to gauge their understanding about him, and lead them to the right understanding about himself.
The first question was to know how much people were aware about who he was, and the second was to know the awareness of the disciples. It was clear the people at large weren’t sure who he was. Their answers were based on some similarities they found between Jesus and John the Baptist or one of the prophets.
Though Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, he was not ready to accept the reality of the Lord’s suffering and death. In other words, he was not ready to bear the implications of his profession of faith. His idea of the Messiah was influenced by the political expectation of the time; i.e., the Messiah was to be the one who would liberate them from Roman domination and re-establish the Kingdom of David. He could never imagine that the Messiah would conquer by suffering. But Jesus was to be a suffering servant, as Isaiah prophesied. Peter could not accept this, and therefore rebuked Jesus for saying such things.
In the second reading, St James tells us, “faith without good works is dead”. That means, one who has faith must express it through the life he lives. The outcome will be good works born from faith. To produce such kind of good works one has to undergo some kind of suffering. There can never be a success story without a painful chapter. No good works will come without some kind of self-denial. Thus, good works also express the value of suffering.
Through his rebuke to Peter, the Lord invites us to reflect on the true value of suffering, to endeavour to understand God’s ways rightly, and to be ready to follow this ‘hard way’ of discipleship. Our Christian calling is not to run away from the suffering or crosses that come our way, but to accept them in whatever form they come, striving to unite them to those of the Lord so that they may become redemptive, and offer them for the salvation of souls.
It is said that once, St Teresa of Kolkata went to help members of a family, who were hungry for many days with some rice and a cooking kit. The lady of the house received it with grateful hands and, in front of her, dividing the items equally, she ran outside with one half. When she returned a little while later, Mother Teresa asked her the reason for her action. She replied that there was another family like her own, that was starving for many days. So, she went to share her blessings with them. That lady understood the value of suffering and learnt to accept it in imitation of the Lord – for love of others.
Today, Jesus is identified with the cross and his suffering on it. We cannot think of Jesus without his crucifixion. In this light, the statement of Jesus finds meaning; “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.” Who is Jesus for us? Who is the Messiah we follow? A conquering king or a suffering servant? A true disciple is ready to choose the hard way of taking up the cross and following God’s son who saved the world through suffering.
Response: I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.
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