The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus

54. Prediction Of The Passion (Matthew 16:21-27)

Jesus, by revealing his divinity to his disciples, had raised them to the heavens. Now he brought them back to earth by predicting how his earthly life would end. He told them that soon he would be killed.

The disciples were not prepared for such terrible news. It seemed to them that Jesus was at the top of his powers. He confounded his enemies in debate and cured all the sick who came to him and taught a noble doctrine never heard before in that ancient land ... a message about the love of God and the equality of humans and the coming of the Kingdom. They had just happily reported to Jesus that the crowds thought him to be a great prophet. They even agreed with Peter when he went further, calling Jesus the "Son of the Living God" ... though, if the truth be told, they did not know exactly what that phrase might mean.

Immediately after that exciting proclamation Jesus told them that the time had come to turn back south and make their way to Jerusalem. There (he predicted) he would suffer at the hands of the rulers and finally be executed. Then on the third day he would come back to life.

The disciples were terribly upset. They whispered to each other:

"How can our Jesus who is so powerful and popular suffer such terrible things! How could God let such things happen to Jesus! How could God let such things happen to US!"

In truth there was some selfishness in their concern. They were used to the good things that Jesus brought them ... the peace, the happiness, the victory. They thought to themselves:

"If our powerful Jesus can suffer and die, what in the world will happen to US? If this our Jesus is no longer by our side, we will become what we were before ... plodding human beings with no hope."

Peter could not contain himself. He cried out:

"Never Lord! This will never happen! It cannot happen! It must not happen!"

Jesus exploded in uncharacteristic anger:

"Who are you to say what will or will not happen in the Divine Plan? Are you so weak that you can only accept life when it is good? If so, leave me! You are not strong enough to be my friend."

"I have not come to bring peace. Peace depends on order but you humans have made the world disordered with your greed and your ambition and your intemperance and your pride and your despair. I cannot promise a world that is whole when its members are still cracked. I come not to bring peace but a hope ... a tranquil hope that can exist even in the midst of disorder. If you are truly my friend, you will accept disorder when it comes to you. If you are truly one with me, you will be ready to stand firm and tall even when the world around you is falling apart."

"I have chosen my death to prove to you that I love you enough to suffer even the worst things in your life. And I will rise from the dead to prove to you that these things you consider worst cannot conquer the living God ... nor, indeed, those who are friends of God."

"Peter, over the past years you have lived through the best of times. Now you must live through a year which will seem to be the worst of times ... a year when you will see your loved one die, a year when your earthly ambitions will be crushed, a year when you will be tempted to believe that God is dead. You must stay with me in these bad times as you did in the good. You must last through the darkness in order to see the dawn."

"When the day of eternal light comes, my friend, then you will know that you are God's and that I am with you in life and in death. Then you will know that you will always find me there deep inside yourself no matter what is happening outside. Then you will know the peace that comes from truly loving me."

Jesus finished then. He got up from the rock on which he had been sitting and began walking south towards Jerusalem and his death. The disciples followed. They were still very frightened but they had no other place to go.

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