Peter and the other disciples found it difficult to understand that Jesus must suffer a terrible death for the salvation of all. We look back to that awful, desolate moment after Jesus’s capture when he was led away and the disciples dispersed, not knowing what to do. That moment of anguish is something that we, as Christians of the 21st century, also experience. Terrible trauma brings with it a level of desolation beyond what any of us would wish upon our worst enemies. It is a desolation of not knowing, of being aware that we live inside a situation that we cannot comprehend and that causes such pain.
The moment when Peter said ‘You are the Christ’ is known as the Petrine Declaration and it is a statement of great clarity. But, clear as it is, Peter still remained to a degree ‘outside’ of the mystery of Christ. Yes, Peter himself! He could see who Jesus was, and he was bold enough to declare it, yet this did not make his understanding great enough to comprehend the mystery of suffering. After this declaration, Peter still denied knowing Jesus, and he still did not understand Jesus’s words, as we read in today’s Gospel.
What we see in Peter today, far from being an attitude to discourage us, should be a great source of strength. We, too, suffer the same lack of insight, the same inability to digest the mystery of suffering. We tend to see this as a failing on our part; we tend to think that we should overcome such lack of insight. Through the Gospel we glean a most wonderful truth, and it is this: we DO NOT NEED to fully understand. Instead, we should see Jesus’s example and emulate it.
Unlike the Disciples, we know the Passion and Death of Christ, we reenact it each year and at every Mass we are invited to enter into that story for our own salvation. Peter did not have that knowledge. Not until later, when the words of Jesus came true. Yet, we are caught in our own cycles of pain and suffering, and this can be just as difficult as what Peter experienced because it effects our faith in God.
Being caught inside the mystery of suffering is painful and confusing. Sometimes, the Cross of Christ is all we have to light our way. But we may find encouragement that we are like Jesus’s disciples: we try to understand, we fall, we get up again.we are blind to the full story of redemption. We do not know what is coming our way, around the next corner of life’s journey. But we give ourselves in love, knowing that he is with us from his Cross, lighting our way. As St John Henry Newman put it: “Let me be thy blind instrument. I ask not to see. I ask not to know. I ask simply to be used.” And, in the hymn by that same saint, we hear those comforting words: “Lead kindly light, amid the circling gloom, lead thou me on… one step enough for me.”
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark (8:27-35)
Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples,
‘Who do people say I am?’
And they told him.
‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’
‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?‘
Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.‘
And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him,
‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
He called the people and his disciples to him and said,
‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it;
but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.