Commentary on the Gospel of
Today’s Gospel reading by Mark involves an interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples. As Jesus and his disciples were walking toward Caesarea Philippi he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They respond with “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus explores further to see who the disciples think he is, and Peter replies, “You are the Christ.” Although it is difficult to know for sure Peter’s understanding of “Christ,” I believe it is anticipatory in that Peter somehow knows that Jesus is the anointed one and that he will usher in a new era of peace and holiness. But he doesn’t quite get what it will take for this to happen. So, when Jesus mentions that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and then rise in three days, Peter is not only understandably surprised by this, but actually rebukes Jesus for saying such things; after all, how could that be for this is the Messiah. Jesus responds by rebuking Peter and, as we see later in Mark, he says that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
The message is that it is not easy to be a follower of Jesus. It can lead to pain, to struggle, and to suffering. And when these occur in our lives, we often ask “Why?” - which reminds me of a metaphor used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth, so, he took it home so he could watch it come out of its cocoon. One day a small opening appeared and he sat and watched as the moth struggled for several hours as it forced its body through the little hole. As he continued to struggle he appeared to get stuck. The man, in his kindness, decided to help the moth and he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, but had a swollen body and small shriveled wings. The man continued to watch with the expectation that the wings would enlarge and expand to support the body, which would contract with time. Neither happened. In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings and it was never able to fly. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was the way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved it freedom from the cocoon. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of struggle, he deprived the moth of health and a good life.
As we take up our cross and follow Jesus there will be struggle and there will be suffering. I pray that I am able to bear suffering and to understand and accept that it is not only essential for growth - physically, mentally, and spiritually, but essential in allowing me to better understand and follow Jesus who leads us to everlasting life.