Must Suffer

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Now that his purpose and mission have been revealed in his confirmation of Peter’s confession of him as Messiah (cf last Sunday’s gospel), Jesus speaks now about the implications of his identity (Mt 16:21-27). He immediately points to the shadow side of the Servant role: his impending suffering, death, and resurrection. The passion prediction emphasizes the necessity of this death and resurrection.

The word “dei” ( δεῖ ) is an impersonal verb in the tense of direct speech which can be translated to “it is necessary that…” or “must, should, ought, proper”, (cf s1S#67 I Must, 01/16/22), followed by the main verb, here, to suffer ‘paschō’, (πάσχω), meaning ‘to endure suffering both physical and psychological torment’, (cf s1S#131 Suffer, 04/03/23). v21 literally goes- “it is necessary that he…suffer…”

Distancing himself somewhat from Peter’s profession, the first part of the passage underlines Jesus’ engagement in God’s will, (vv21 – 23), Originally such predictions during the lifetime of Jesus were undoubtedly a general indication of what he was to endure. The specifics given here (v21), which even include the third-day resurrection, represent a rereading of the event in the light of Easter faith, as is seen in the case of Peter’s recognition of Christ as the Son of God (Mt 16:16). Not understanding, Peter begins to chide Jesus. He can see the victory ahead but cannot comprehend the requisite suffering and death that would lead to it.

Peter spoke for the rest in confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and here he is their spokesman in protesting the need for the Messiah to suffer and to die. Peter’s attempt to dissuade Jesus and the latter’s sharp rebuke do not fit well with the accolades accorded Peter only a few verses before (16:17 – 18). They are, however, integral to the author’s combined glory-suffering theme. The “Satan” designation of Peter attaches itself to his attempt to deflect Jesus from his God-given mission (cf. 4:10). Standing in opposition to the will of God is to be on the side of Satan. Peter’s thinking is an obstacle blocking a determined path; it is human rather than God-related reasoning (v23).

The second part points to what “is necessary” on the part of those who would follow him (wv24 – 28). The sayings on discipleship are well suited to their Matthean context. Cross-bearing and self-denial are integral to any true following of Jesus. It need not be sought out; it flows from the Christian life itself. Cross bearing derives its raison-d’être from the following of Jesus. It is important to note the inversion of values which discipleship entails. Human salvation is a Christian loss while human loss is Christian salvation. The Christian is prepared to sacrifice everything, even life itself, in the interest of eternal values. For those who adhere to God’s designs, Christ’s return in glory offers an imperishable recompense (Mt 25:31 – 40).

The message of today’s scriptures centers around that qualified “yes”: Jeremiah, (cf. first reading), accepted his God-given mission even though it was difficult and he wanted to say no while Jesus does not allow anyone or anything to draw him from his appointed destiny, his “must”. He was irrevocably set upon the path that his Father determined. As followers of Jesus, bearing the name Christian, we are asked to make God’s will our own in countless ways, large and small. May we always be able to say “Yes, Lord, thy will be done”! Amen.