Sometimes a TV programme comes along which is along the lines of What is the Worst Job in the Country? It puts before the viewers various tasks that need to be done that are demanding, dangerous or messy. These programmes are short and are thus very restricted in their scope. Of course the meaning of worst is relative. For instance, (particularly in regard to our reflection today) worst doesn’t mean unrewarding. The programmes though seem to refer generally to jobs that not everybody would be able or willing to do. Some of these onerous jobs do not need great talent just the willingness to do what is often messy but necessary. Often, the messiest jobs are not the best paid. In compensation, the people who do these messy jobs often feel a real sense of helping others and find their reward in that sense of satisfaction.
In our Gospel today, Jesus talks about His imminent death and resurrection and how His followers must deny themselves to bear the cross of service. We must live as Jesus lived to be His Good News and do His work in our daily lives. Clearly, the task of the Christian is not an easy one if done with dedication and love. It may seem unrewarding in the eyes of many who observe us and what we do is often unacknowledged and we are shown little if any gratitude. Our best motives can be misunderstood. The demands of love and compassion can be messy but still need to be done. If done well there is the reward of satisfaction.
Many of us can sympathise with and understand where Peter is coming from when He takes Jesus aside. He loves Jesus and he doesn’t want to see Him hurt. When Jesus predicts His death, He also mentions His resurrection, but Peter only seems to hear the first part about the cross, the messy and painful part. Jesus’ words to Peter: “Get behind me Satan” seems hard to us. Peter did not see why pain and suffering were necessary for the Lord to do His work or for the disciple to effectively serve; surely there must be another way? The issue is that the notion of an easier way is the language of the world, not the Kingdom of God. The easy option doesn’t get the Lord’s work done. Jesus has chosen to obey His Father and give His life for the salvation of the world. This has not been an easy decision and He will struggle again with it in the Garden of Gethsemane. The last thing Jesus needs is for His best friend, Peter to inadvertently undermine His resolve and try to talk Him out of the cross, the very reason He came. The salvation of the world, the conquering of sin and death, the release of mercy and life can only be achieved by Jesus’ dying – there is no other way. Interestingly, Peter takes Jesus aside, off the path and out of the way to Jerusalem. Peter stands in front of Jesus and is now physically in the Lord’s way. Jesus tells him in no uncertain terms: the place of the disciple is behind not in front. Jesus is stern because Peter’s attitude could negatively affect the other disciples as they struggle to come to terms with Jesus’ prediction of His passion.
It seems Peter has always suffered from the fear of implications. I can sympathise. No one would play chess with me as I frustrate them. I’m not a confident player and I take ages over a move and I ‘hum and ah’ not taking my finger off of the chess piece. I know that once I have removed my finger I am committed and have no power over what comes next. Due to my lack of skill this is often a disappointment and I am soon defeated. Net effect: I have become afraid of the implications of a bad move. When Peter stepped out of the boat to walk towards Jesus, he was fine until he sensed the waves and wind. As he began to fear the implications of his action, he began to sink. Later when a servant girl accused Peter of being a follower of Jesus. he was afraid of the implications of telling the truth, he too would be arrested, so he denied knowing Our Lord. Peter chose the easy option and soon regretted it.
The language of the cross is love, mercy, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice and obedience. Total commitment and the suffering and inconvenience it often involves, is not, and will never be, the easy option but it is often the most worthwhile. Our Lord understands when we are thrown and become fearful or despondent by the sad and demanding aspects of our lives and those we love. We do not always see the purpose to the trials people must endure. But, vitally, we know that this life is not the only one. If it was, people should choose the easy path and get the best while they can. But we Christians know there is a Heaven. Peter didn’t hear Jesus say He would rise from the dead, if he did he was too sad by the mention of the cross to appreciate it. But we, in the light of the Lord’s victory on Calvary know He is risen. We know that this life is a preparation for eternity. Heaven is real and is the place of love, life, joy, peace and reunion with our loved ones in one great celebration with Jesus. Our task is to live the language of love, life, compassion, service and care which is treasure in Heaven. To live the language of the cross makes us Heaven compatible. Where others are fearful of the implications of trials and challenge, we must respond in trust. Jesus worked through the cross to the resurrection. We work from the resurrection through the cross. Whatever the trial or issue we look at all through our Easter spectacles. We know the reward, we focus on the prize, we know how it will end/begin again and we are confident in God’s mercy. In effect we look back from the reward to live the cross/process that secures the reward. We focus on the resurrection and we work forward in the way of the cross – our most effective way of life.
The present is always easier when we have something wonderful to look forward to. Who has more to look forward to than the Christian? We must trust that our issues carried as crosses, underpinned by faith and married to a positive attitude, can be used by God to bring His Kingdom more powerfully and effectively into the World. But we can only do this cross-ways. As Peter was to come to understand and we accept, the seeming paradox of faith: To lose is to find, to give is to receive, to die is to live and by His wounds, we are healed.
Fr. Gerard X