Clearly Peter’s response was wrong. The question for us is, what was Peter failing to hear? What can we learn from Peter’s mistake so that we can do better? How can we set our minds on divine things, not on human things?
What Peter refuses to hear is Jesus’ first prediction of his passion, the first time Jesus tells his disciples that he will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” That single sentence summarizes the whole gospel, which we can break down into three points.
First, Jesus is telling us something about the world we live in, that human life in a fallen world is inevitably tragic, that suffering is and always will be part of the deal. Not even God incarnate is immune.
We know about suffering and death, of course. But we hate it, and so, day in and day out, we try to ignore it.
You can see that in lots of ways, big and small.
Here’s a small one. A plumber came to our house last week, just as I started writing this sermon. When he arrived, I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine, and we moved on.
Maybe our plumber really was fine. But I can’t be sure because he and I both knew that I was asking a courtesy question, not a real one. As a matter of courtesy, I asked him how he was. Also as a matter of courtesy, he said he was fine. He may in fact be suffering. But as a matter of courtesy, we weren’t going to go there. That’s a small way we ignore the reality of human suffering.
Here’s a big way we can see the same thing. We are all shocked at the school shooting in Florida last week, and rightly so. We grieve for everyone effected, and rightly so.
And because it was so shocking, the shooting in Florida penetrated our denial. But we also know that tragedies happen every day. Violence and the tragic death of young people happen every day. Something like 96 people die from gun violence in the United States every day. Around the world, thousands of children die from preventable causes every day.
If we want to live our lives, we can’t think about all the tragedies that are happening around us all the time. So, until something forces us to take notice, we look away.
That is what Peter does in our gospel reading. What Jesus is saying is too awful to bear, so Peter refuses to accept it. He refuses to the point of rebuking his Lord and Master.
Sometimes denial is appropriate, even necessary. But sometimes denial won’t do. Decent human beings, especially faithful Christians who worship a crucified Lord, can’t always look away from human suffering. We can’t pretend that suffering isn’t real and isn’t awful. Particularly with the people we care about, we have to be able to hear their pain. That was Peter’s great failure in our reading. He could not hear Jesus’ pain, and so he left Jesus to suffer alone, without the support of a friend.
The lesson of the cross is that, at least some of the time, we have to look straight at the tragedies in our world. We have to face tragedy with courage and compassion and hope. We have to walk the difficult road with each other and, to the degree we can, with our brothers and sisters around the world. We have to take up a cross as part of following Jesus.
That is the first lesson in our gospel reading, a hard lesson about the reality of suffering in our world. It would be too hard except that there is good news to go along with it. The good news is the nature of the God we know in Jesus Christ. The good news is, we don’t suffer alone.
Unlike us, Jesus didn’t have to suffer. Jesus didn’t have to become incarnate in the first place. But out of love for us, he was born and dwelled among us knowing that he would suffer and die. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, Satan offered Jesus a way out. But out of love for God and for us, Jesus refused the temptation, knowing that he would suffer and die. When he was arrested, Jesus reminded his disciples that he could summon legions of angels to rescue him (Matthew 26:53). But out of love for us, Jesus let events take their course, knowing that he would suffer and die. Jesus chose to come into our world and to face the worst that the world has to offer, voluntarily, out of love for us. And that makes all the difference.
Come back to the school shooting. In the immediate aftermath, I am guessing that many of you reacted like I did, which is to wonder why God allows such terrible things to happen.
When Peter heard Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering, that was Peter’s reaction. Mark doesn’t record what Peter said, but Matthew does. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Peter wanted God to prevent Jesus’ suffering. We want God to prevent our suffering.
What Peter fails to understand is that Christ suffers in solidarity with us. We can learn from Peter’s mistake.
We worship a crucified Lord. We worship a God who chooses to suffer with and for us. When we witness suffering, even more when we experience suffering, we often wonder where God is. But we also know the answer. God is right there, in the midst of the suffering, suffering along with those children as they died, along with those children who were terrified, along with those families who are grieving. God is right there, even for those who can’t see God right now.
When we face suffering, our own or someone else’s, we can rely on Christ being there. And Christ’s presence gives us the courage and the faith to escape the trap of denial, to carry on, to face whatever challenges come our way.
That is good news. But that is not the best news in our passage. The best news Peter misses entirely. Jesus tells Peter and the rest that suffering and death are not the end of the story. Jesus will suffer, and be rejected, and be killed. But after three days, Jesus will rise again.
That is the Easter good news for which we are getting ready. Death is real. But death cannot hold Jesus. Jesus suffers and dies with us, so that we can triumph and live with him. While we suffer, while we grieve, we can lose sight of God’s ultimate victory. Sometimes we do set our minds only on human things.
But we don’t have to stay there. God wins in the end. That is our faith. That is the grounds for our hope. That enables us to love. That is the divine thing on which we are invited to set our minds.
And that is my prayer for us: that we can set our minds on God, God who suffers with us, God who overcomes suffering for us, God who gives us life.
In the name of Jesus Christ, God with us. Amen.
 https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/. That number appears to be going up.
 https://data.unicef.org/resources/levels-trends-child-mortality/. Thankfully that number is going down.