A friend of mine wrote on his Facebook status:
Christians are called to: Go, Suffer, Die, and Be Raised. The problem in this is that the only thing we want to participate in is the being raised part.
He’s probably right. And why wouldn’t that be right? Who wants to go out of our comfort zone and suffer? The being raised part is the best. But, the truth is, for something to be raised, it must also die.
There is a change in the air for the disciples and for Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. Up until now, things have been really exciting for the disciples, particularly Peter. For the most part, they’ve been pretty good, too. Just imagine being part of the crowds witnessing Jesus healing the sick and standing right there beside him while he healed. Imagine handing out fish and bread to thousands of people, food that had barely been enough for a single family, much less for these countless hungry mouths. Yet no one…no one went hungry that day. Imagine hearing all those great stories from the storyteller himself: wheat and weeds, yeast and bread, pearls of great price, and faith like tiny little mustard seeds.
Who did Peter think Jesus was? Of course, Jesus was The Messiah. His Messiah.
But now, things were changing. Jesus’ tone is changing. Everything is about to change. Instead of agricultural tales of wisdom, Jesus is now talking about going to suffer; about going to Jerusalem, right into the territory of the Pharisees and scribes who had opposed them every step of the way. This was disturbing enough, but then Jesus also says that he is to be killed.
Truth is, this is more than just a downer. This is terrible news. It’s a terrible idea! Peter doesn’t like it a bit and is having none of it. Who can blame him? Things are going so good! Why does Jesus have to suffer? Why does Jesus have to die? Peter does not like this at all and surely he must do something about it! He must convince Jesus that this isn’t right. God forbid such a thing should happen to Jesus!
We can understand Peter. When things are going well, we don’t want to stop to deal with what might go wrong. We do not want to hear whining prophets or wise advice that seems tedious at the moment (no matter how valuable it may actually be.) More than that, we do not want to hear someone talk about the bad stuff that may happen, the challenges we’re going to face, just around the corner. Even more than that, who wants to hear that we, that those we love, must face difficulties if we are going to continue on the path we’re on, despite the fact that it is truly the right path.
God forbid it, Lord! Peter says. This must never happen to you!
And to make matters even worse, was Jesus thankful for Peter’s concern? Did he say, ‘thanks for worrying about me, Peter, but I’ll be fine.’? Just prior to this, Jesus calls Peter “the rock” upon which the church will be built. Faith like Peter’s will be the foundation of the church. So, did Jesus say, ‘Yes, maybe God will forbid it. Maybe we will be ok.’? Did he say, ‘April Fool! Just kidding!’? Nope. Instead, he calls Peter the devil and tells him to get out of the way. You’re a stumbling block for me, he tells Peter.
You’re setting your mind on human, not divine things.
Divine things? Going to suffer is a divine thing?
Jesus then tells all of his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’
It is a jaw dropping moment, one that was bound to be a surprise to his disciples. We may not feel it so much sitting here now, because we know the story. We know what’s coming next, but they do not. It is one thing to think and talk about the kingdom of heaven, to follow this amazing rabbi all over the country and another thing altogether to hear him talk about suffering and dying; to hear him talk about the necessity of crosses, losing lives to gain lives.
I’m sure we all have seen those bumper stickers that say “WWJD?” What would Jesus Do? As you’ve probably heard me say before, it’s a good question to consider, but it might not go quite far enough. The idea for this question actually came from a book written by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. Sheldon, a pastor in Kansas, wrote the book in an attempt to encourage Christians to consider their faith as an everyday imperative. In your everyday life, considering what would Jesus do in a given situation can greatly affect the choices you make.
That’s a fabulous idea. When we’re talking about healing and fish and bread and walking on water and telling parables, that is. Loving neighbors and showing mercy and eating with everyone. But that isn’t where Jesus stopped. He also suffered and died. Suffered greatly and died painfully. What would Jesus do? He would go to the place where it is going to hurt. A lot. He would suffer. A lot. And he would die. And he would do so not just for friends and people who loved him, but for people who didn’t like him, who wanted him dead and thought he was a blasphemer and political enemy.
That’s the part that Peter didn’t want to hear about. And, if we are all honest, it isn’t something we want to hear either. That is exactly what Jesus says and does. However, this isn’t all Jesus does. This isn’t just scolding Peter because he’s trying to change Jesus’ mind. There is something else here that could be easy to miss. Just a tiny little phrase in what Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples that is so easy to overlook. Possibly because it sounds utterly senseless and impossible.
Jesus tells them that he must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed. And on the third day be raised.
On the third day be raised. Raised from the dead. Raised to new life. He must do these things, yes. But he must also be raised to new life. Divine things are not merely suffering and death but something far greater than these: being raised from the dead to new life.
Jesus speaking about the crosses we bear, losing our lives to gain it, all of this is not merely in the light of his going to Jerusalem to suffer and die but, more than any of that, it is in the light of his resurrection. That’s the life we gain. The new life in him.
Sometimes, people will use these words of Jesus’ and those in other places of scripture to indicate that it is good for people to suffer in general, that people who are abused or harmed in some way are actually better because of the suffering itself. This is not what Jesus is talking about here. And, in point of fact, I think the notion that the suffering inflicted upon others comes from anything other than evil is probably contradictory to Jesus’ teaching. What Jesus’ suffering does mean, however, is that Jesus suffers along with us and that we are never alone in it, regardless of its source or purpose or lack thereof.
Maybe my friend is right. “Christians are called to: Go, Suffer, Die, and Be Raised. The problem in this is that the only thing we want to participate in is the being raised part.” But maybe that’s because we don’t realize that it isn’t a choice between the first three, Go-Suffer-Die, and the last part, be raised. It isn’t either bad stuff or great stuff. It is all one thing!
It is not likely that many of us will ever face significantly painful consequences because of our faith, certainly not torture and death. There are those who have, throughout history and around the world, experienced significant oppression, harm and death as a result of their faith. And yet, there are things in our lives that we must choose to do differently because of our faith. If we truly did think about what Jesus would do or, better yet, what Jesus is doing right now because Jesus is alive and at large in the world, it makes a difference in every single thing we do. It means that we may sometimes have to make difficult choices and decisions that relate to our money, our time, our families and our futures.
Try that out, the next time you are facing a choice or decision. What would Jesus do? What is Jesus doing? Going to the place where it hurts, suffering, and dying for the sake of others, then rising to new life, making a new world that’s better for everyone. We must go to the difficult place in our lives where we know what is right but don’t want to make a choice because it hurts. We must make that choice because it is right. Experience the consequences if there are any, and most likely those consequences aren’t being crucified. We must die to ourselves; let go of what we think we need because in the end, God has given us everything we truly need. And then, we live in a new life, in a new place or perspective that’s better for everyone.
It isn’t just any kind of suffering he’s telling his disciples about. He’s talking about suffering that is brought about by those who are opposing the Son of God. Jesus is not saying that it is a divine thing for someone to be put to death. He is saying that the forces that try to harm him, the disciples, or us are the kind of suffering we all may have to face at some point in our lives, but facing these difficulties with the help of God is faithful. The cross he will bear, the crosses that all of us bear, the mark of the cross on our foreheads, is not a divine thing because of the painful suffering that may come but because of the new life we gain in Jesus. The new and eternal life it brings us in him.