There’s a great episode of the show Seinfeld when one of the characters, George Costanza, decides that his decision making is so bad, that he would be better off if he just chose to always do the opposite of his own initial instinct. When faced with a problem or challenge, George did the exact opposite of what he would normally do and then… things began to work out better for him.
Today’s Gospel is basically that same story. We hear that Jesus is telling Peter to… do the opposite. Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he would one day be rejected, suffer and then killed for his teachings and actions. When Peter told Jesus that he shouldn’t be saying this or feeling this way, Jesus responded with one of the most stinging disapproval comebacks of all time: “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Peter was following his instinct, his very, very human instinct. Jesus, however, was telling him that he should… do the opposite.
Jesus makes the point that God thinks one way and we think another. This is punctuated in dramatic fashion by the commandment that in order to be saved, we have to take up a cross and follow Jesus. Take up a cross. That can mean one thing and only one thing. That we must suffer. Suffer for our faith.
I can remember my mother telling me something when I was younger. If I was sick or experiencing a significant hardship of some sort, she would say: “I wish it was me instead.” As a loving mom, she wished she could take the hurt onto herself so that I could be spared of it. It’s a very loving thing to do. As a father and now grandfather myself, I understand this perfectly well. I get what it feels like to love someone so much that you would be willing to take their pain away from them so that they did not have to experience it. This is the way loving parents think. And this is the way God thinks.
Jesus came to spare us the hurt. But he did not say that we will never suffer. No, we need to take up our crosses indeed, but he completely changed the very nature of suffering. He gave it a type of meaning and purpose. And he showed us that this isn’t where the story ends, rather it’s just a part of the story. The part we can get through because what most assuredly lies on the other side of it is so glorious and so everlasting that… if we only knew… if we only knew… then we would not have to be convinced, would not have to have our arm twisted back, to pick up that cross. We would do so. We would do so just as Jesus himself did for us.
One final thought about Jesus’ suffering…
It’s about Gethsemane. His suffering there was profound and deep. It is described as “the agony in the garden”. Jesus experienced the suffering of anticipation. Of betrayal. Of abandonment. And it was extremely intense.
Jesus needed accompaniment, reassurance, and consolation. It was his moment of profound vulnerability and need.
Jesus calls us to take up a cross to follow him. Suffering is a part of life… but Jesus also calls us to follow him. To follow. To do as he did. To love others as his Father loves us. This means to reach out to those who are suffering. To… be the accompaniment. To be the reassurance. To be the consolation. To help others in their profound moments of vulnerability and need. And to show this same kind of love. Maybe even to go so far as to wish it was us instead.
“Take up a cross and follow me.”
It’s about the cross.
And it’s about following.