Thursday 28 August 2014

Pentecost 11 Matthew 16:21-28, Cross bearing

None of us enjoy suffering or are normally willingly to embrace it. But life involves suffering. This however is at odds with our cultural norms of a glossy magazine, cool life, unless you are into extreme ideologies of whatever kind. 

So how do we cope with carrying our cross, whether it is illness, grief, brokenness, loss, poverty, persecution? In our society how do we maintain our integrity in the face of suffering when society wants us to be cheerful and inauthentic about our suffering, our sadness, our feelings? 

We have to be brave and acknowledge our feelings despite the denial around us. We need to feel! And we need to be with people who allow us to process suffering.
How can we identify with others if we don't feel suffering? 

Suffering especially if its sudden, produces emotional shock. You feel out of control, victimized, helpless, powerless, frightened. Later you feel angry about what has happened. You will never be the same. 

And if your suffering is caused by someone,  how does that fit in the glossy magazine view of life? Holocaust writings have much to teach us here and peoples experience of cruelty and torture. And what about our response? Do we respond in kind or do we keep our integrity? Are we able in any sense to forgive knowing how easy it is to exercise power  wrongly, cruelly, destructively? (The Forgiveness Project). What a responsibility we have as individuals and corporately to behave in a way that reduces the suffering of others and not cause suffering? 

We have to rebuild ourselves with our suffering forming part of our new psychological world view.  We grow up, become realistic about people and life. Sometimes we cant make sense of our suffering, it is meaningless. It rocks our internal security. Like Job we recognise both creation and destruction in our lives. Life itself is so fragile. 

I remember when I was 17 a man was hit by a car in front of me. He went up like a sack of potatoes. I went over held his hand until he was taken by the ambulance to hospital. I was covered with blood. He died that night. Life is so precious; we have to thank God for what we have got now because any minute it can be taken from us. Our faith in anything transcendent has to be based on the fragility and the preciousness of life. Holocaust theology for example Eli Wiesel's writings are intelligent resources that grapple with the meaningless of suffering. And as Jonathan Sacks has recently written, its our response to suffering that marks us out, though that in itself is a high calling that we may not be able to live up to.

Jesus in this passage in Matthew speaks about cross-bearing discipleship. Its not popular theology today despite rhetoric! The suffering messiah means also a suffering messianic community. Is this really a picture of the church today? Its uncomfortable as an ideological basis. To 'take up his cross' meant  to die with Jesus in Jerusalem. To suffer in such a way was shame, an embarrassment of epic proportions. Suffering is like that. People may shun us. Its cultural. We dont do suffering, we dont do authentic feelings, we dont do illness, we dont do death. How pathetic are we as a society if we cant cope with issues that are all around us?!

A suffering messiah is not easy for the disciples to come to grips with. He will be rejected, killed and after three days (like Jonah in the big fish) he will rise. There will be an end to the suffering! This is great, this gives us hope. Though we dont use it as an excuse not to alleviate suffering before death!

Peter told Jesus off for talking of such things and Jesus rebuked Peter. Out of my sight! 
Aligning Peter with Satan is extremely harsh. 
But to deny the existence of suffering is to deny whats true and real in life. This is not a glossy magazine theology-this is how it is. We suffer!

Jesus says to the crowd, If anyone really does want to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross. The image would conjure up cross-bearing criminals, who are shamed in the presence of neighbours and friends. We save our lives by losing it! Strange logic eh!  Life here meaning soul, psyche as in Jung. So suffering is part of our journey and without it we will lose the essence, the soul of our lives.



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