The Challenge of the Question
The commencement of the new academic year is always an important moment. It’s a moment of new beginnings, new experiences and new opportunities. For our young children the first day of school is a real new beginning, which carries with it both a sense of excitement but also a tinge of apprehension for both child and parent. I remember my own first day at school was not without a tear or two! Those children moving from junior to secondary school will also feel that same sense of uncertainty, as a new environment, which has a completely different feel to the one before is waiting to be encountered. Then there are our young adults branching out from home to University. For them a whole new world of education and learning waits to engage with them. All of these moments raise their own challenges, which wrap themselves up in a myriad of questions which come tumbling into these young and maturing minds. Let’s remember these youngsters and pray that they will have the appropriate support and care to manage the exciting challenges which they will now face.
Today’s gospel presents us too with a very challenging question which sets a marker against every other question and places them in a context of new beginnings, new experiences and new opportunities. When Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say I am?” he is about to introduce them to something new – a new beginning which for them would require a complete turning upside down of their lives, and a re-education of everything that they had previously thought about themselves, their lives and their faith. This new beginning starts with the startling announcement that Jesus is to endure the Cross. It is an announcement which astounds the disciples to the degree that Peter boldly exclaims that such a thing must never happen, and in this moment the extent of Peter’s (and our) lack of understanding of what this means is exposed.
All of our experiences in life mean that we carry many burdens which mark us. How do we account for them and how do we respond to the consequences that they create? None of them would necessarily have been on any of our agendas, just as the spectre of the cross certainly wasn’t on Peter’s. Maybe he’d expected a “bravo” or a “well said” for his words of caution to Jesus, whereas instead he received a severe reprimand, a reminder that teaches us that we have much to learn about our selves and our faith. Our faith is not a comfort blanket to wrap ourselves in to safeguard us from the harsh realities of the world. No, our faith is the very thing which reveals God’s love to us in the events which so often confound us. The cross comes unexpectedly, sometimes without warning and when it comes it seems unfair, uncalled for and unwanted, and it leaves us bewildered. What is it saying to us?
Are there new opportunities towards which the cross is drawing us? Are there new perspectives in our lives which the cross calls us to explore and examine? Perhaps it’s something to do with losing your life for the sake of the gospel, a coming to terms with understanding that what befalls us and what happens to us in our lives is a way of teaching us about the way of faith, taking us to places where we’d rather not go, but nevertheless calling us to be servants to each other as we journey. Maybe this is the way of getting closer to Christ, of journeying with him as we meet each challenge and turning it into an opportunity. The cross questions us to begin afresh and to experience our lives from a different viewpoint. It’s the greatest challenge we’ll ever face.