In today’s Gospel, once again Peter’s not "getting it." And this time, it’s hard to blame him. Here is his leader, his hero, the Messiah – the one he has followed all this time telling them that okay sure we’ve done all these miracles, we’ve cured the sick, fed the hungry but now the path ahead is for Jesus to be captured, tortured and crucified. Every human fiber of Peter’s being must have cried out in protest. "Oh, no, Lord. No such thing can happen to you!" And then comes the rest of the bad news. "Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself and take up his cross…" No royal palaces, no being recognized as the liberators, no winning, no success in human terms – just self-denial and crosses. Peter must have wondered, is this what I signed up for?
I think we all sometimes echo Peter’s sentiments-at least when the going gets tough. It’s easy enough to be a follower of Jesus when things are going well. We can be pretty good about keeping the commandments, caring for our brothers and sisters, giving to the poor and so forth. But what happens when the going gets tough. When illness, rejection, economic disaster or some other crisis enters our life, what happens to our belief then? Isn’t our reaction "surely a loving God couldn’t mean for me to embrace this Cross?" Our prayer often becomes "dear God, where are you? Why don’t you make this go away?"
Jesus understands our reaction. That’s why he says to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan…you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." And when on the Cross, Jesus, fully embracing his humanity, cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus never promised us that he’d take away our crosses. In fact, he said we’d have to carry them. But he did promise to be with us and to understand our suffering.. When my husband died after a battle with lung cancer, a friend gave me a small holy card which really helped me through my grieving. It was a picture of the Crucifixion and under it was written the simple words, "I am with you."
May you always know even in the hardest of life’s battles, Jesus is with you!
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.