In today’s Gospel Peter got it right…almost! When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, it was Peter who responded, "You are the Christ." No doubt Peter felt pretty good about his response and well he should. Apparently, some of the others were a bit hesitant to apply that title to Jesus. But not Peter. He stepped up and voiced his belief for all to hear.
Then Jesus does something a bit strange. As soon as Peter applied the title "Christ" to him, Jesus begins to teach that he must suffer, be rejected, be killed and rise after three days. Clearly, these kinds of experiences didn’t fit with being the "Christ" in Peter’s mind. He pulled Jesus aside and scolded him for talking of such things. Jesus reacts almost violently. "Get behind me Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do!"
Let’s face it; most of us tend to think as "human beings" do! Just recall St. Paul’s comment in First Corinthians that the sufferings of Jesus are "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…" (I Cor 1:23) Few of us factor "suffering" into our understanding of a rich and satisfying life, especially if that life is our own or that of someone we love. Today’s Gospel seems to be inviting us to take a different look at the way we think about our lives. If suffering is essential to the life of Jesus, it is just possible that suffering is essential to our lives as well. If suffering is essential to our lives and not just the result of mindless circumstance or accident, perhaps we should look to the suffering in our lives to teach us important truths about our world, ourselves and, of course, God.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.