How do we deal with sufferings?

by Ben Cheng
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 20:7-9

Romans 12:1-2

Matthew 16:21-27

In this Sunday reflection, we are still in the context of the 16th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, in which Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). But having made the claim, everything has turned around almost immediately. Jesus shows the disciples an uncompromising way of life in which he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer greatly from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and on the third day, be raised by His Father. It is an extremely hard and disturbing message for Peter and the disciples. They are completely devastated by the suffering and death of the one whom they love so dearly.

Peter, probably still in a high mood when he, “took Jesus aside, and began to rebuke him” (Mt 16:22). Let us stay in that scene for a while to imagine how extraordinary it is to rebuke Jesus! Indeed, it is very important to begin examining our conscience: There are times when we hear Jesus, and we want to do exactly what Peter does, to rebuke Him. He reacts counter-intuitively, even against our own understandings, expectations, and desires to rebuke Jesus. "Lord, this can't be right!" "You are wrong about this." When we rebuke Jesus by imposing our own desires, we are in a bad spiritual space. Peter is no different from all of us, and he says, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you" (Mt 16:22).

How would Jesus respond to Peter? With the most shocking words in the Gospel, He immediately rebukes Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mt 16:23). Can we imagine being called Satan by Jesus? In fact, when Jesus rebukes Peter with the word "Satan", He is speaking the language of the “father of lies” (John 8:44)! The great lie is that Christian life can be lived without the cross, without suffering out of love. That is why when Peter tries talking Jesus “out of the cross”, he is indeed speaking the language of Satan. Suffering and death are not on Peter's agenda, but these are on Jesus’. Jesus is proposing to them the only valid solution to the problem of suffering and evil, and thereby, the only valid path to joy is the sacrifice of the self in love! Jesus announces that he is going to Jerusalem in order to give himself up. He says in the last supper, “This is my body, which will be given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you" (Lk 22:19-20). In these words, he sums up what he will be doing in Jerusalem. He will sacrifice himself in love for others, and in this he will come to live and become a source of life for others.

Jesus further elaborates his teaching, "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mt 16:26). Walking the path of self-protection and self-promotion may indeed win us the whole world, but the price is way too high, for it will compromise the person that God wants us to be, the “best version of ourselves”. What God expects from us is radical when it comes to love. True love entails our willingness to suffer. We are meant to be bearers of the divine love in the world. Such is our mission which will always involve suffering because it means a path of self-denial, and that the divine love will always meet with resistance. Jesus is inviting us to make a decision to love, and actively “take up his cross, and follow me”, consciously walking the way of the cross with Him! (Mt 16:24).

So, friends, do you want to be happy? Follow that teaching. Which path do we walk, a path of self-protection, or a path of self-emptying, self-giving love? “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). Give your life away as a gift, and you will experience the joy of resurrection.