How To Look Suffering In The Eye

by Gospels, Meaning of Suffering


Matthew 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,”God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Gospel Reflection

“When I shall with my whole self cleave to Thee, I shall nowhere have sorrow or labor…. I hide not my wounds; Thou art the Physician, I the sick; Thou merciful, I miserable.” ~ Augustine, The Confessions

Our social media feeds are often full of puppies and princesses, cute descriptions to celebrate a child’s first sneeze or to celebrate the grand finish line they reach at the end of second grade.

Rarely have I seen comments or posts that would indicate that, while we grow, there might be failures, defeats or suffering. Rather, these days it is thought to be impossible that one could fail anything in elementary or middle school. I don’t intend to argue against the pedagogy behind this idea of the way things are, I only ask myself if this is coming from parents that would perhaps like to prevent their children from ever finding out the truth about themselves and would rather have them live in a glass case, which in real life itself would some day shatter on its own, a far more devastating outcome than a child experiencing normal, minor disappointments along the way.

The reluctance to accept the hard work of life is ancient. It even afflicted St. Peter who did not want to accept that his life’s path must pass through great suffering. Reading this passage of the Gospel today leaves a different taste in my mouth, after having accompanied in these days a quadriplegic man in his fifties and who could hardly speak through the Spiritual Exercises. At one point he was telling me about how he would like to do more. He felt as if the Lord asked him not to settle for the minimum. He felt called to face the suffering that was called to bear.

So often we wish that life were different. Peter wants to step in front of Jesus. He wants to show him the way. He lays out his personal projects before God and asks God to get involved. But God is not there; he removes himself; he does not let himself be manipulated. Life asks us to walk difficult paths that we wish we didn’t have to take.

We wish we could step before God and show him the way, like many “snowplow parents” that continually step before their children to smooth out their path, preventing them from exercising the muscles that they will need when their parents can no longer be present daily in their lives. This is why we often meet withered and exhausted young people that have never learned to fight for what they want.

The disciple learns by stepping back. Only in this way can he practice watching where the master steps. He assumes a style, learning a certain way of living life. If Peter had walked behind Jesus, he would have realized that his master did not try to avoid suffering and he would have the courage to look suffering in the eyes.

Peter would have learned that the greatest work each day is that of stripping oneself of one’s own ideas, expectations, and prejudices (denying himself) so that he may assume (that is, put on) the logic of the Gospel, Jesus’s way of thinking, and the cross. The cross is the way Jesus lives His life, the way that does not avoid suffering but that accepts it with courage!

The illusion that we trick ourselves into believing when we are frustrated is that we can gain the world, that is: be better, be the best, be the most beautiful, be grown puppies and ruthless princesses! The truth that Jesus teaches us is rather that our lives are meant to be lost, that is, given away. Sometimes we lose, fall, and fail, but we will certainly be more true and more real.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • What is your relationship with suffering?
  • What difference is there between your way of thinking and that of Jesus?

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