A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

     It seems that both have a “dark side.”  This means to say that one is capable of doing “bad” things as well as “good” things.  Who can forget that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22)?  In what is commonly called the Old Testament, one can see an abiding tension between God’s justice and his mercy (Ex. 34:6-7).  It appears that in much of the OT,  the aspect of “justice” seemed to predominate and thus the notion of suffering was understood as “Retribution.”   

     In today’s Gospel (the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time:  Matt. 16:21-27), we note that Jesus is discussing with his disciples the necessity of his suffering.  The supposition being that the Gospel writers have Jesus somehow bringing about some resolution of the tension between divine justice and divine mercy.  We are aware of this by noting the change in the notion of suffering from “retribution” to “vicariousness.”   (The death of the Suffering Servant [Isaiah 53] was considered to have been “vicarious.”  Jesus was believed to have been identified as the Suffering Servant [Acts 8:26-39])  Impulsively, Peter attempts to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem to suffer and receives a sharp comment, “…You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What is happening here?  Basically, we are witnessing  a shift in the undersanding of suffering from retribution to vicariousness.  Peter seems to have the “short” range view of suffering as retribution.  God seems to have the “long” range view of suffering as vicarious.  One of the values of the long range view of suffering is that it makes us more aware of suffering as a community building experience.  The idea of community, in many of its aspects, is missing today.  Can I actually think of any “community” to which I belong?  And what is the nature of my relationship with it/them?

Jesus and his followers wound up as a community called “church.”  The mutuality of responsible relationship nourished that community, including suffering.  In fact, how do we handle suffering, disappointment, frustration?  It appears to me, at least, that these negative experiences would make better sense if we were able to be more open to the notions of community around us.  That would demand positive responses, because, as it is, we all have a “dark side.”


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