Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
To live is to suffer, Gautama Buddha taught. This is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
Raise your hand if by some chance your life experience has taught you otherwise. Maybe you are an extraordinarily fortunate child reading above your grade level here. Even then, I might prompt you to think again upon your few years.
I was texting with a couple old high school buddies last week. Yes we are old and yes, high school was a long time ago. One of us wisecracked about our hair, then and now. That moved us quickly to the topic of our kids, who might have something to do with the hair issues. The mood on our little screens turned very, very pensive.
Each of us three dads has children who have suffered. As it happens, each of us has a child who has attempted to end the living and the suffering. It is the deepest single valley of the shadow of death we have ever walked through.
We couldn’t have imagined the pain, forty years ago with our fishing poles. In our pensive moments even then, we imagined being in love. Probably good for us that we didn’t know all that love might entail.
I sat in a cave in the jungle in Northern Thailand a few years ago – my buddy Kris Rocke hiked up there too and remembers this – talking with an old Buddhist monk about our faiths. Bats swirled in the candlelight. The monk had been a professor of comparative religion at the university. “The Lord Buddha taught us about the nature of suffering,” he observed. “The Lord Jesus showed us about love.”
Indeed the gospel accounts of Jesus show us – above all – love. Like Peter in this week’s lectionary passage, we cannot from the beginning possibly imagine all that love entails. Were we to imagine it, we would protest strenuously – and possibly refuse its invitation altogether. Or we might embrace it with bravado and later flee before the morning rooster crows.
But Jesus teaches, rebukes, and shows. He would show in his death and resurrection what he had shown his entire life. Reflecting later about the night of the Last Supper, the Apostle John would make a most beautiful remark: “He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he showed them the full extent of his love.” (The Greek in John 13:1 is “eis telos” or “full extent,” per NLT translation footnote and other commentators.)
Past Word From Below reflections (for example here and here) have explored the demonic nature of Satan and the “human” perspective that Jesus rebukes in this passage (verse 33). Coming Lenten reflections will explore the “divine” nature of the Atonement – how the cross brings a troubled humanity into union with a loving and peace-making God. For now we can recognize from “The Son of Man” a truly noble truth about God: If to live is to suffer… then to love is to “suffer with.”
It is a truth three old fishing buddies know now. At least in part, in our own ways as parents – we glimpse the love of God the Father, even as we are invited ever deeper into the way of the Son. It is the way of the cross.