The book “The Road Less Traveled”, written by M. Scott Peck, begins with a thoughtful and wise statement: “Life is difficult.” Short as it is, it captures a truth and a wisdom that can save us from many unnecessary worries, vexatious whining and unending complaints about the most inconsequential inconveniences. He says further: “It is a great truth because once we really see this truth we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult … the fact that life is difficult doesn’t really matter.”
We can paraphrase the quote above and apply it to Christian life and say: “Discipleship is difficult.” And it seems that the impulsive disciple Peter lost it again. Last week, he got the right answer to the question of Jesus, “Who do you say I am” when he proclaimed the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. But he did not yet understand what it entailed to confess that Jesus is Lord and savior. In the words of Jesus, it meant: “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 will find it.” When he heard Jesus say that he had to undergo the difficult process of suffering death, Peter, with all his good intentions, remonstrated with Jesus, telling him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Once more, Peter was looking at things from the limited understanding of human reason and worldly thinking. He did see Jesus as his Lord and savior. And so, he thought they all should be exempted from any form of hardship and difficulty, much more, death on the cross. It’s part of the perks of the position of being the Messiah, the Son of God, or so Peter thought. What was Jesus response to his inaccurate idea? “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” We can get stuck with Jesus calling Peter “Satan” and forget that he asked him to “get behind me.” It is an invitation, not a rejection of Peter, to confess Jesus as Lord not only when things are going right but also to follow more closely, even cling to him, in trying times. We need to stop thinking that it is alright for others to have difficulties in life while we should be exempt from it. To get behind Jesus is to accept that discipleship is difficult.
This doesn’t mean we have to look for suffering. That’s not discipleship. It’s masochism. Jesus himself requested that the cup of suffering be taken away from him, if possible. The point of carrying our crosses is not about us dying. Jesus has done that for us. For us, it is about having life to the fullest. Peter, who died by crucifixion himself, understood in the end what Jesus meant when he said: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed.”