Mark 8: 27-38: “Who do you say that I am? ’… ‘You are the Christ’… He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected.”
As with “the son of man,” all people from the top to the bottom experience suffering and rejection, which can either crush us, or else build us. For there are the words of the song, “Brother sister let me be your servant/ let me be as Christ to you/ Pray that I can have the grace to/ let you be my servant too”
We too can grow through suffering; can discover real life as we share in the suffering of others – for example, as others suffer through illness, bereavement, poverty, or imprisonment. When we shut off suffering, when we shut off our neighbors, or when we shut off the Word of God in our midst, then we find we have also become shut off from ourselves .
Today we remember the first responders — especially the firemen — of 9/11. In their suffering and death, they are, are remarkable examples of Jesus’ words today, to take up our cross and follow him.
Thomas and Morgan-Witts wrote “The Day The Bubble Burst“, which is the story of the New York stock market crash in 1929. After the crash Ed Stone was in a state of despair. He was trying to commit suicide by jumping from their apartment. Edith was Ed’s daughter. Mabel was the wife of Ed and the mother of Edith. During Ed’s suicide attempt, these two women tried to hold him down, to the best of their ability. When Edith felt that:
“She [Ed’s wife Mabel] could not physically restrain her husband Ed much longer, she fell back on the only weapon she had: words.
‘I called him a sissy, yelled at him, reviled him, hated him for what he was making me say and do.’
Ed stone began to cry.
His wife slapped him twice– hard on each cheek.
He whimpered on for some moments. Then he slowly came to his senses.
One of the servants arrived. Mabel Stone rose to her feet, and in a controlled voice, told the servant that her husband had suffered a fall.
In silence they led Ed Stone inside. Only there was he able to tell them the facts. He had lost close to $5million — back in the days when money was money. They would have to fire the staff, move out at once from the new apartment, and completely readjust their life-style.
(–readjust, I suppose, to live like the rest of us live! But it is a shock for all of us to be brought from what we are used to.)
(His wife Mabel said,) ‘Ed, it doesn’t matter. We will manage somehow.’
Edith thought her mother was the ‘most magnificent person in the whole rotten world.’ “
There is a mixture of strength and compassion in the scenes of the firefighters of 9/11, and Mabel Stone here. It is the strength that is in the person who knows how to take up their cross, and enter into the sufferings of other people in compassion and solidarity. It is a far better outcome than when people turn away and leave others to suffer alone.
Refugees (at the moment, from Syria and Afghanistan) rely on others to turn towards them and help them. The four hundred million inhabitants of the European Union could surely help the one million refugees. Will they take up their cross in compassion, or simply turn away?
Think about a time of suffering you have experienced. Perhaps people had the kindness to visit you. Their presence, more than any words, removes the emptiness. They share the pain; the pain slowly declines; and, after some time, life eventually returns. We cannot come safely through grief alone. When we share suffering with one another, it leads to resurrection, and it leads to identifying “the Word” and “the life” that God has placed in our hearts.
Mark 8: 27-38: “Who do you say that I am? ’… ‘You are the Christ’… He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected.” The synoptic ‘secret’ is that we can find life through and beyond suffering and death .
“Suffering”, then, speaks of the difficult experiences with which we all must live, of the struggle that we go through and of discovering in them God’s call to us. This appears in Genesis 22. For the writer, Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac was the supreme moment in the spiritual pilgrimage of Abraham, towards which the previous events have been working up… In Gen 15, that first binding of the covenant with Abraham, Yahweh himself had already passed through the symbols of death; in this scene (Gen 22) the reaffirmation of the covenant is a consequence of Abraham’s passing through symbolic death, so to speak; he and God are bound together by a shared experience. So at the very outset of the salvation history, through the faith and obedience of one person through his individual suffering, the whole pattern of redemption is pre-figured. Then, in Ro 8:31f Paul echoes the Psalmists words (Even if I make my bed in hell, God is with me there). Paul wishes to deny emphatically that any force in the world at all can touch the one thing that really matters, God’s loving care for the younger brothers and sisters of his Son, Jesus, who fought the decisive battle at Calvary, and laid the foundations of victory there.
Isa 50v4: “The Lord God has given me… the skill to console the weary with a word in the morning; he sharpened my hearing that I might listen like one who is taught.”
So The Word of God in our midst will suffer, will be rejected, and will rise again. We can think of our existence as like a book. With that simile, then what we journey through in this life is just as if it were, the foreword, or first chapter of the book of our existence.
There is much more to come, much more joy, than the misery we sometimes endure just at any particular moment. An enormously positive characteristic of the whole of both Judaism and the Judeo-Christian faith is that they are both always future oriented. If we can understand our own individual suffering in no other way, then we can at least understand it as a means to understand the suffering that all human beings experience.
We can use our experience of the storms of this physical life, this opening section of the book of our existence, so that we can travel with others who have suffered; travel together on the river of love and compassion, towards the ocean of being.