Imagine you’re giving someone a gift. You’ve worked really hard on it. You’ve chosen it just for this person. You can’t wait to see them embrace it, to see the way it changes their lives.
But they don’t like it. Not only do they not like it, they don’t even want it. They hate it and don’t even try to hide it from you. Face twisted in disgust, they respond to your gift with horror. They tell you, “Please no, anything but this.”
You’d feel pretty crummy, huh? How can they be so blind to what you’re trying to give them?
“Get Behind Me, Satan!
Not long ago, the Sunday Gospel recounted the story of Jesus predicting His persecution and death to His apostles (Matthew 16:21-23). As I sat in the pews listening to this message, I empathized with Peter’s response: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
I get it, Peter was looking out for His friend and master. As he heard Jesus tell of a brutal torture and death, he declared he would do whatever it took to make sure no one laid a finger on Him. Sounds noble enough, eh?
So why does Jesus freak out at him, responding “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me”? A little harsh, don’t you think?
But as our chaplain began his homily, I started to understand things a little differently. Maybe there’s a lot more to be gained from this interaction than I could imagine. Maybe it was less about Jesus’ “sassy” dismissal, and more about Peter’s lack of understanding. Maybe Jesus is giving us a gift, and we’re begging him not to give it. “God forbid, Lord!” we say along with Peter.
Jesus wasn’t frustrated because He had anger management issues or a low tolerance for Peter’s antics. No, He was perturbed because the greatest gift He could ever give humanity—His sacrifice on the cross—was being spat upon. When told about the very act that would save the world, Peter responded, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
You’re so Blind
As Father continued his homily, he said something that’s stuck with me for weeks: “It’s as if Jesus is looking us in the eyes and saying, ‘You’re so blind to what I want to give you.’”
These are the words left unspoken in Peter and Jesus’ exchange. Jesus is aching for His dear ones to understand and accept His love.
His disciples pleaded for anything but the cross, and maybe we aren’t so different. Perhaps, Jesus stands before us and tells about a grand trial approaching, and we say to Him, “God forbid, Lord! Anything but that!”
It may seem innocent enough to avoid crosses, to do all we can to prevent suffering, but it’s neither realistic nor sanctifying. When trials come (and they will), God is allowing us an opportunity to walk next to Him to Calvary, to carry His cross step by step with Him. He is giving us access to Him in a new and intimate way. How do you think He would feel if we pressed the cross back into His arms and took off running in the opposite direction?
Our God turned a symbol of death and fear into one of triumph and victory. Do we doubt He can do the same with our crosses? Then why do we whisk them away?
In the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
Running Into the Storm
I can’t tell you how many blessings have come from events I once considered horrible. It’s like God smacks me on the back of the head each time and reminds me, “See! I told you I had a plan, even then.”
Nothing that occurs passes His eye unnoticed. He has permitted every ounce of pain we’ve experienced for a reason; within each trial is the chance to grow closer to Him. Confident in this fact, how can we run from our suffering? How can we reject it?
We need to look no further than our own schools to see countless souls who would do anything to numb their pain and suffering, who would do everything to avoid their crosses. But, we need to be different. We as Christians, need to be living in the world, but not of it.
When suffering comes our way, we must not flee; rather, we must face it head-on. We need to run through the storms of despair we encounter in our lives, holding fast to Christ’s promises, so as to illuminate these dark places with the light of His redemptive love.
Our suffering is not worthless. Our crosses are not insignificant. God brought the biggest of blessings from the greatest of pain, and perhaps He’s trying to do the same in our lives today.
Accept the Gift
Imagine Jesus before you, offering you a share in His cross; the cross of being rejected, the cross of being mocked, the cross of giving your life for the people viciously taking it from you. It is painful. It is bloody. It is anything but pretty.
Now, look at the hands of this Savior, the hands that offer this gift. They’re not clean and perfect. No, they are bloodied and pierced—the marks of One who has loved without counting the cost.
As He offers us this gift, we must not shy away—even if we can’t understand how anything good could ever come of it. Like Christ, let us respond with confidence to the trials before us. “Let not my will be done, but Yours.”