22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 3 September 2023

From time to time in life, disillusionment can really settle upon us.  Why can’t we and others live up to the ideals that are important to us? Why can’t things just be as they should be? Why can’t people live as we want them to?  We can be left wondering, are our ideals ever possible?  Are they ever able to be realised? 

However, one of the most radical truths we will ever learn in life is that which is expressed by the Australian novelist, Les Murray, “The mystery of life is not solved by success, but by failure, a perpetual becoming.”

We can spend our whole life learning the meaning of this.  It confuses us given that it is the absolute opposite of what we want.  It is the antithesis of the celebrity culture in which we are immersed, and which seduces us in such subtle ways so that we become despondent because we are lead to think we are not as wealthy as we could be, we are not as beautiful as we should be, we are not as famous as we would like to be.

Yet life itself, and the gospel as life’s deepest commentary, teach us a counter-cultural truth.  Something becomes incomparably possible in the very shattering of our ideals, in the very experience of disillusionment.  The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh puts it starkly 

“And three sad people had found the key to the lock

Of God’s delight in disillusionment.”[1]

How can God have a delight in our disillusionment?  It can only be if the very experience of disillusionment opens for us a possibility about life that we may not have otherwise.  It is this possibility to which we are invited by this scene in the Gospel.

As the German writer, Jurgen Moltmann suggests, Peter wants what we all want and are attracted to.  We naturally love strength, power, and success.  We want to achieve.  We want to be immune from suffering, frustration and contempt. The figure of Peter in today’s gospel personifies this attitude deep within each of us that want at all costs to avoid suffering, to be spared the pain of disillusionment.

As one Moltmann describes the scene, “There is the man fighting his way up who want his goals and ideals to be impassable, powerful, victorious, promising success.  [But before him] is the suffering, swooning, and crucified God who loves his people truly as they are, uncertain, mortal, at each other’s mercy.”[2]  It is the encounter between the man who wants to be god, and the God who is man.  

Jesus calls his disciples to follow him not as someone who is successful and powerful, but as someone who is weak and vulnerable.  This totally confuses the first disciples of Jesus, and it continues to confuse us disciples now.   To follow the One who is fully open to the reality of suffering means that the Christian disciple finds life’s deepest meaning and truth not along the avenue of success but rather along the road of a brokenness that is shared with others, and when my own very vulnerability is transformed into a hospitality of others.

Jesus is not calling us to go through life suffering.  We are not those who look for suffering.  What he invites us to, however, is not to be those who seek to anaesthetize themselves from the inevitability of suffering in life.  Our discipleship of the One who will be crucified, invites us engage the unavoidable suffering in our journey in such a way that we might recognize, through our suffering, that in the end we need one another, that we cannot go it alone, that in our openness to one another in our vulnerability rather than in our strength is what renders us most deeply human, and provides us with our deepest source of happiness.

This is the invitation of the gospel to us in the face of our hurts in life – to stay present to them long enough to perceive what the invitation to a new way of living, to a new perspective on life might be.  This is because in every hurt in our life is an invitation to see life in a new, in a deeper, way.  And in the depth of our hurt, however it presents itself, we learn the most important thing we will ever learn in our life:  happiness comes to us when we share our weaknesses, and our hurts, with someone else.  

When we share our hurts with one another we can discover that sense of companionship with one another that is the true strength of our humanity.  

[1] Patrick Kavanagh “Lough Dorg”

[2] Jurgen Moltmann and Johannes Metz, Meditations on the Passion, (New York: Paulist Press, 1979)

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