From The Journey to Peace
Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion. (Matthew 27:32)
Suffering and the Cross are at the Heart of Christianity
Suffering and the cross are at the very heart of the Christian faith. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:22-25), Saint Paul tells us about the paradox of the cross. Suffering and death are signs of human weakness, defeat. It is for many an obstacle, a scandal, a stumbling block. But Jesus turned suffering and death into victory.
If we are to share in that victory, we, too, must be willing to take up our cross and follow him. There are, of course, many costs, and risks involved in being his disciple. But we know that the cross is always followed by the resurrection – sometimes after a long period of suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom.
God, my refuge and my strength, help me to accept, even
embrace, the crosses that I encounter in my life. Teach me what it
means to be an authentic disciple of your beloved Son. Transform
my human weakness into steadfastness.
Following Christ Means Bearing Our Crosses
When Jesus invites us to follow him, the Cross is embossed at the very center of the invitation. For most of us, this is not a call to martyrdom. Rather, Jesus asks for our steadfast loyalty to him and his way of life each day. We are not to be ashamed of or abandon our commitment to him and his gospel.
He does not ask something of us that he himself was unwilling to do. Saint Paul writes that, in responding to his Father’s will, Jesus, “was not alternately ‘yes’ and ‘no’; he was never anything but ‘yes.’” (2 Corinthians 1:19) Obedience to the Father’s will is at the heart of evangelical obedience. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Lord, God of hosts, help me to walk in your ways,
saying yes to you in my everyday life, even when
what you ask of me seems more than I can humanly
bear. Walk with me and help me to persevere.
Faith Means Listening to Jesus, Even His Hard Sayings
In Matthew’s Gospel, (17:1-8), we encounter Jesus transfigured on a mountain, with Moses and Elijah at his side. We stand with the three disciples – Peter, James, and John – and witness an event filled with great mystery. What can this mean? Who is this Jesus?
Peter is apparently overcome with awe and offers to build booths or tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. What does Peter have in mind? Perhaps he simply wants to prolong this awesome moment as long as possible. Perhaps he prefers to stay on the mountain rather than continue the journey to Jerusalem, where, as Jesus had predicted, a painful death awaited the Lord. Perhaps Peter simply doesn’t know what to say and says the first thing that comes to his mind. It wouldn’t be the first time he spoke or acted impulsively!
At any rate, Peter does not understand the vision on his own. His voice is silenced by a voice from Heaven. Speaking from a bright cloud, God, the Father, repeats what he said at Jesus’s baptism: “This is my beloved son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) That helps explain what is happening. Just before Jesus took the three disciples up the mountain where he was to be transfigured, Peter had professed that Jesus was the Messiah, “the son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Then Jesus had explained that they were on their way to Jerusalem, where he would suffer, die, and rise again. Peter had immediately protested. This was not his idea of a messiah! Jesus sharply rebuked him for judging by the world’s standards, not by God’s.
Now, on the mountain of the transfiguration, Peter hears directly from God, the Father, that he and the other disciples are to listen carefully to everything Jesus tells them. His instruction about how to live a good, moral life is intimately connected with his understanding of the necessity of suffering. To walk in his way involves costs and risks. Following in Jesus’s footsteps often entails suffering because it is not the way of the world, and his followers often suffer ridicule and opposition. But loving one’s enemies despite ill treatment an persecution – in imitation of Jesus – is a creative use of suffering in obedience to God’s will.
The three disciples come down from the mountain with Jesus, and their lives are changed forever. Nothing can ever be the same again. They have gotten a glimpse of Jesus’s Heavenly glory. But one more experience awaits them near Jerusalem. He will invite them to join him in the garden of Gethsemane, where they will also witness his human glory as he wrestles with God’s will for himself. All disciples who wish to share Jesus’s future glory must also be willing to share in his suffering. There is no other way. This is a sobering thought, but one that is more than balanced by God’s promise of salvation, hope, and everlasting life.
Like Peter, James, and John, we ask God’s help to see persons and events in the light of faith, and to have the courage and strength to follow Jesus – even to Calvary. My prayer for you is that God will deepen your faith, hope, and love so that you might be faithful witnesses of his promises wherever your pilgrim way takes you.
Lord God, there is so much noise in my world, in
my life, that makes it difficult to hear my own inner
thoughts, let alone listen to the words of your
beloved son. Help me to acquire the kind of inner
peace that will open my being to your word so that
I can respond appropriately.
Accepting Alienation as a Form of Embracing the Cross
We sometimes experience alienation in our relationships with others. This is what usually comes to mind when we think of alienation. It’s not difficult to make a list of people we don’t get along with, persons with whom we often disagree, individuals we simply don’t like. The alienation may stem from a hurtful experience or even a series of them. While we may be able to be reconciled with some people, others may keep us at a distance and refuse us entry into a more intimate encounter where reconciliation can take place. Of course, we can do the same to others as well.
The racial or ethnic background of people, their cultural heritage, their personal values and beliefs may be quite different from our own. We or they may be set in our ways, and it may seem impossible, humanly speaking, to bridge the chasm between them and us. So, alienation – at times, a very painful experience – perdures.
We should not be surprised if we sometimes experience alienation from God. As we know, sin can rupture our relationship with God. However, even when we pray regularly, God may, at times, seem more absent than present. Even Saint Teresa of Ávila experienced a dark night of the soul.
Accepting the fact of alienation is the equivalent of embracing the cross each day, approaching suffering as Jesus himself did.
God of glory and majesty, I acknowledge that you
are the lord of my life. Without you I can do nothing.
But please do not hide your face from me. And
if that is what I do experience, allow me to
approach this suffering, too, as Jesus himself did.