The reflection is from Fr Michael Tate’s homily for this Sunday's gospel and is printed here, with kind permission. Fr Michael Tate is currently a Parish Priest in the Archdiocese of Hobart and is Catholic Chaplain to the University of Tasmania where he is an Honorary Professor of Law, lecturing in International Humanitarian Law.
At Easter, we celebrated the great victory of Jesus Christ over the annihilating power of death. He emerged a glorious bodysoul. Human nature was redeemed from the ultimate inky blackness of the tomb.
This is a victory in which you and I and every person who has lived, is living or will live, can share. We can share the resurrection life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But, in today’s gospel, Jesus Christ tells his followers that he must suffer and be put to death first. Why?
We have to get one terrible thought out of our heads. It is quite common among some Christians. That is, that the Heavenly Father of Jesus wanted him to suffer such a tortured, agonising death. What sort of God, a cruel despot, would that be? God never wills suffering or pain. I certainly could not worship a god who organised the world so that an innocent man would die in such a barbaric fashion.
And yet, relying on Our Lord’s own words, we do say: ‘It was necessary that Jesus suffer and die.’ What can this mean? I believe this refers to the necessity of divine mission and the necessity of divine love.
It was the Father’s will that Jesus remain true to the mission entrusted to him – a mission to preach and embody the gospel of mercy and forgiveness, and justice for the poor and the marginalised. It was inevitable that powerful elites, both religious and political, would find this intolerable and have Jesus eliminated. The way in which Romans did this was to crucify the troublemaker.
Image © Jenny Close, Creative Ministry Resources
Jesus foresaw with great clarity the consequence of remaining true to this mission and warned the disciples that that is the way it would be. There was a dreadful necessity to it all. Peter could not accept this and protested mightily ‘God forbid, Lord. This will not be so for you.’ To which Jesus responded in the most vehement terms: ‘Get behind me, Satan.’
Why such vehemence? I think because there was an even deeper reason why it was necessary that Jesus suffer and die: the necessity of love.
I am good friends with a young couple who have two lovely children, but the young son has had a series of about twenty hospitalisations, many in life threatening circumstances. They love their child without reserve. What makes this love the most distinctive is that those parents, indeed any parents, would willingly take on the situation of the child, be substituted for the child, would rather suffer and die than see the infant flesh of their flesh suffer or die.
That is the sort of love which God has for you, has for me, has for every human being who has lived or will ever live. God so loved the world where suffering and wrenching death ravages human beings, that God determined to take on the situation of human beings, to substitute for the whole of human nature, to absorb the suffering and pangs of death… to change that destiny so that we might share in the Resurrection victory over the seeming annihilating power of death.
So, Our Lord had to die through the necessity of love, and he foresaw that, given the forces opposing him, this would be by way of crucifixion.
Peter did not want to hear or accept that this would be the necessary path that the Christ would have to tread…Eventually, of course, Peter did follow Jesus the Christ, precisely to be crucified at the foot of the Vatican Hill.
Let us recall Christ’s love for us and his persevering in his mission every time we make the sign of the Cross, his Cross: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’© Michael Tate