And he [i.e. Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” But he strictly charged them and commanded them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again.” And he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
When little Johnny was five years old. He knew his daddy was an engineer and was convinced his father drove a train for a living. He liked to imagine his father going to work, donning a railroad engineer’s cap, and climbing into the cab of a steam locomotive. Now that Johnny is older, he realizes that his father is, indeed, an engineer but that he has a degree from Lehigh University and spends his days designing bridges and building roads rather than running locomotives. Five-year-old Johnny was quite correct about his father’s title—engineer—but he had the wrong idea when it came to his father’s job description.
That is the way it is with Saint Peter. He has Jesus’ title quite correct. Jesus is indeed the Christ, Israel’s longed-for Messiah. Peter, however, fails to realize that the Christ is someone who first must suffer before entering into glory. Peter has gotten Jesus’ title right—Christ—but he is not one hundred percent correct when it comes to Our Lord’s job description.
What about me? Am I correct about my job title while at the same time mistaken about my job description? More specifically, do I call myself a Christian and yet believe that I will somehow be exempt from the major hardships of life? Have I convinced myself that if I say the right prayers and perform the right actions and give to the right charities, God will 1) spare me from suffering and 2) bless my socks off? Put simply, have I subscribed to the Gospel of Prosperity? Then what do I do when I face inevitable suffering? Do I accuse God of violating my gentlemen’s agreement with Him to play nice with me? Am I like the bitter man I visited more than thirty years ago who complained, “I stopped going to church ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes”? As a corollary, have I come to regard others’ suffering as a kind of punishment for their misconduct? If any of this is true, I certainly got my job title correct—Christian—but I think I missed the mark when it comes to my job description.
Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” It reminds me of the lyrics of that old song: “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” At least if there are roses, there are also plenty of thorns.
The bottom line is this (and being the wimp that I am, I hate to say it): If we wish to be Christ-like, then we must realize that this will involve a certain amount of real suffering. As Christians, our job description includes carrying our cross in order not to become a cross. If we think we can go through life without having to suffer any great hardships, we are thinking as children do. It is time for us, like little Johnny, to put aside our childish thoughts and grow up!