Mankind, each of us, has the tendency to want to take control of everything. Indeed, it seems to be one of the greatest attributes that man can achieve, at least according to the wisdom of modern society. But, is it? Is being able to take total charge of our life the best way to live? Is this the best position to be in on our journey to our eternal home, heaven? Can we navigate through our own faults and failures, our own short-sightedness and come to the kingdom? Jesus tells us in today’s gospel – no we can’t. And for two reasons (that at least I can see with a quick glance):
The First is that we are unable to see as God sees – so how can we navigate His path to salvation by ourselves. Last week our Gospel reading was the paragraphs right before what we heard today. We saw Peter, with the help God the Father proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. This week we hear Jesus tell Peter to wake up! Actually the words were ‘Get me behind me Satan’; but the idea was quit trying to control the situation and allow God to lead. Two bumper stickers come to mind: the first reads ‘God is my copilot.’ the other, in response, says ‘If God is your copilot then you are in the wrong seat.’ We cannot find a way to heaven by ourselves.
As sinful creatures we need God to lead us, to heal us of these sins. So the road to heaven is necessarily one of purification, and that involves spiritual (maybe even physical) pain, suffering. Mankind, each of us, as shown with Peter today, tries to keep away from pain; we try to find the easier way to get to where we want to go. But, in this case it can’t happen, the path must go through the cross to reach our eternal rest with God; no other way can work. And because of our sinful paradigm we wouldn’t know how to do that; but Christ has already gone through the cross for us; to open this chance of salvation – and He alone can show us the way.
And as scary as this might seem this process of purification is really a grace bestowed on us by God, because it allows us to see ourselves as we truly are – to grow in wisdom, to strengthen us in humility and mercy so that we can be receptive to those around us and help them as well. It allows us to burn off the ‘me’ attitude of Satan and allows the ‘you’ attitude of Christ to shine forth; or as St Paul says ‘…be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that we may discern what good and pleasing and perfect.’
The other reason we can’t come to the kingdom by ourselves is that the kingdom is already here and we have trouble seeing it! Christians, both Protestants and Catholics alike have the tendency to speak of gaining eternal life, gaining access to the kingdom as if it were something in the future – after we close our eyes to this part of our life. In the Old Testament the people of God talked about finding, gaining eternal life. But as our Holy Father, mentions in His latest book ‘Jesus of Nazareth, Part II’ – their perception of eternal life was that it starts now – not after we die. They understood that we can start to participate in this eternal living by deciding to follow God and live the life He teaches us to live! I am reminded of the often used phrase ‘heaven on earth’ – and in spite of how frequently it is used – it isn’t far from the truth. We are called to live a heavenly life here and by doing that we do, in some respects, reflect heaven here on earth – this is what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer ‘Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’ This is what the saints achieved in their lives, living heaven here on earth and in doing do allowing those around them to see God’s glory.
So my prayer for us and for all is to sit in the copilot chair, follow the pilot’s instruction and then we all will see clearly the kingdom that is around us.