At the very beginning of his Gospel, John calls Jesus “the Word.”(1) The Greek word for “word” is logos. However, logos also means “reason” or “logic.” In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that, “the word (or logic) of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(2) Thus, the humble carpenter from Nazareth and the humiliation of His cross reveal God’s way of thinking.
When Jesus foretells His passion for the first time, Peter will have none of it. “God forbid, Lord!” Peter exclaims. The Scriptures go so far as to say that Peter “rebuked” Jesus.(3) Can you imagine? The whole you are the “Rock on which I will build my Church” thing must have really gone to Peter’s head! That would be short-lived.
“Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus returns the rebuke with one of His own, and in front of all the Apostles no less.(4) I’m sure Peter was stunned by Jesus’ swift and stinging characterization, especially after just having been called “Rock.” Then Jesus continues, “You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” The Greek word for “obstacle” – skandalon – means “stumbling block” and refers to an actual rock over which someone might trip and fall. An interesting play on the word “rock” that Jesus is making here.
Why did Peter so viscerally react against Jesus’ talk about His suffering and death? There are various reasons perhaps, but, at bottom, it was because Jesus’ death meant “Game Over.” Human nature recoils at suffering and death. They are the great enemies to be beaten or avoided at all costs. Death is the end of all hopes and dreams, one of which for Peter may have been the earthly restoration of Israel, freed from the occupation of the Romans, with Jesus reigning as King in Jerusalem.(5) If Jesus is killed, the dream dies with Him. Death would mean the end of all His hoped-for accomplishments. Of course, Jesus would turn this upside down.
Jesus’ suffering and death is the very reason He was born into the world. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “Every other person who ever came into the world came into it to live. He came into it to die.”(6) It was the Father’s will(7) and the work Jesus had come to accomplish.(8) His name points to this fact. “Jesus” means, “Yahweh saves.” How does He save? Good Friday will tell the story.
Peter was putting an obstacle in the way of Jesus fulfilling the purpose for which He came into the world. He was putting an obstacle in the way of Jesus obeying the Father’s will. He was tempting Jesus, not unlike Satan had in the desert after His baptism, to opt for the world and the world’s way.
Peter is not thinking like God does. He cannot grasp that suffering and death aren’t the greatest obstacle, but sin is. Anything that makes us veer from fulfilling God’s will for us and stray from the narrow way that leads to eternal life is the real enemy. And anyone who encourages us in that direction is a tool of Satan, whether he or she is aware of it or not. Life is short; eternity is eternal. In the end – and there will be an end – there are only two destinations, one of “no more suffering” and one of the “definitive suffering.” This world is passing away and the life of man is but a breath,(9) like the morning fog, here then gone.(10) When we misjudge the real obstacle, we actually become one to others and to ourselves.
Suffering, as it turns out, is the means to salvation, and God willing it is a sign of His love and mercy. St. Teresa of Kolkata called suffering “The sweet kiss of Jesus” and St. Thomas Aquinas called it “God’s medicine for human beings.” Jesus did not hide from His disciples that they needed to suffer.(11) Suffering is a necessity in the theater of redemption, and we have our part to play. St. John Paul II wrote, “In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings – in any part of the world and at any time in history – to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world.”(12) Our suffering, no matter how small or great, when offered in love and united to Christ’s, can save us…and others!
There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the passion. There is no new life without death. There is no holiness without mortification. There is no satisfaction for sins without penance. There is no perfection without purification. There is no exaltation without humility. There is no heavenly feast without fasting. There are no heavenly riches without earthly poverty and detachment from riches. There is no rising to a supernatural life in the Spirit without putting to death the inclinations of our natural self.
This is God’s way of thinking. It is the wisdom of the Word. The logic of the Logos.
David Hajduk received his Ph.D. in Theology from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England and wrote his dissertation on the thought of St. John Paul II. He is a teacher, speaker, pastoral minister, and award winning author of God’s Plan for You: Life, Love, Marriage and Sex (Pauline Books & Media, 2006, 2018), a book for teens on the Theology of the Body. David is the Director of Theology for Array of Hope.