Following a God Who Suffered

Today’s Gospel came at a good time for me, and for perhaps others in the Church too. I have attempted to write a post several times about various topics… my feelings during this latest crisis, my opinions about what we need going forward, my thoughts about the situation in general. But it has been too raw, too confusing, and too overwhelming.

Then I heard today’s Gospel. I was taken back immediately to Caesarea Phillipi, where I stood earlier this summer. Carved in the giant rock face at that place (there are many natural details of geography that make this a fitting and fascinating place for Christ to enter into this exchange with Simon) are the abandoned niches of shrines to pagan gods. One can visualize Jesus walking among the shrines before turning to his Apostles and asking that all-important question: Who do you say that I am?

The answer has become easy – perhaps too easy. You are the Christ. And you are not one among many gods – you are God.

But are we ready for what that really means? It’s one thing to say it. But do we really believe it? And are we ready to do what follows from it?

As I walked around the ruins at Caesarea Phillipi, I looked down at what remains of the Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats. I think I audibly thanked God that He came in the flesh and founded a Church. I really don’t want to worship Pan and Dancing Goats.

Temple of Pan

But do I want the Church on my terms?

Yes, I do. Just like Peter wanted the Christ on his terms.

Frankly, over the past few days I have struggled with why Jesus chose to do things the way He did. There’s so much … humanity in the Church. So much humanity.

I have struggled over the past few weeks with anger. Probably a healthy dose of righteous anger (the kind that Augustine supposedly said is the daughter of hope), but anger nonetheless. I have not had a crisis of faith, but I have had several frank conversations with God. Today’s Gospel reminded me that if I’m truly going to profess Jesus is God, and abandon the life of worshiping dancing goats, I’m going to have to accept the Church He founded.

I’m going to have to accept the Church He founded … on His terms. And that’s a Church made up of sinners. That’s a Church that often falls short. That’s a Church that will disappoint me at times. But it is also a Church that is made up of saints. It is also a Church that will forgive me. It is also a Church that will give me Jesus.

It is a Church that has what I need to be holy.

Thankfully, the Church doesn’t depend on us. But it is made up of us. And so it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work. It’s time to work towards healing and reformation. It’s time to support the priests who are struggling and laboring for us. It’s time to call our leaders to follow Christ. And it’s time to follow Christ ourselves.

Heck, maybe in some ways, life would have been easier if we were still worshiping dancing goats. But we aren’t called to an easy life. We are called, as He reminded his Apostles again and again, to follow Him.

And we follow a God who suffered greatly. Wrap your mind around that one.

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