If you’re a baseball fan, you know that one of the most important offensive stats for any given player is his batting average. Batting average is the percentage of times a player gets a hit out of the number of times he’s up to bat. Most major leaguers have a batting average in the .200s. And would it surprise you to know that currently, only the top 25 batters in all of Major League Baseball have a batting average over .300? That means that even the very best batters in the League will only get a hit 3 times out of 10. The other 7 times out of 10 they get out or get walked.
St. Peter is a lot like that Major-League player at bat. When it comes to his faith, he gets it wrong so many times. But every once in a while, he will knock one out of the park. If you recall, in the gospel last week, Peter, by the grace of God, is prompted to profess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The very next thing Jesus says to him is: “Blessed are you, Simon…” and then he hands him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. I’d call that a home run for Peter! It doesn’t get much better than that!
But then we have today’s gospel reading, again from the Gospel of Matthew, that follows immediately after last week’s reading. Peter is up to bat again. Jesus is pitching. The Lord winds up and lets it fly. Only this time, it’s a curve ball. Jesus announces his Passion. He tells the disciples that he is going to have to go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed. This is not what Peter was expecting. He did so well just a few verses before, but this time he doesn’t respond well. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. For that, Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan.” Ouch. Strike out. No one wants to be called Satan, especially by Jesus.
But it seems unfair in a way, doesn’t it? I mean, Peter was obviously concerned for his teacher and friend. He didn’t want him to suffer, and certainly didn’t want him to be killed. What’s so wrong with that?
Jesus explains to us what is wrong with it—Peter is thinking as men do, not as God does. In other words, yes, it perfectly natural for Peter to be disturbed by the proposition that Jesus would suffer and die, but this is only according to a human way of thinking. Contrast that human way of thinking with Jesus’ way of thinking. He knew the reason he was sent to earth. He knew that his purpose on earth was to accomplish the Father’s will. And he knew that meant he would have to make atonement for the sins of mankind by offering himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God. He was thinking only of accomplishing his mission of love, not about his own safety and comfort. That’s where Peter got it wrong.
Since Jesus’ will was 100% in tune with the will of the Father, he knew what God’s plan was, and he acted in accord with it. Peter must have realized that from all the time he had spent with Jesus. And so in Peter we can see the deeper question underlying his objection: Lord, how can this be part of God’s plan?
It’s a legitimate question. It’s a question I think we all ask when we hear that something terrible is about to happen, and certainly when something terrible does happen.
This week we have experienced great sadness over the plight of our fellow Texans to our south. It is heartbreaking to see such loss of property, livelihoods, and most especially the loss of lives in the destructive floods that followed Hurricane Harvey. The journalists keep repeating the phrase, “a flood of Biblical proportions.” Undoubtedly, it has left many asking the question, how can this be part of God’s plan?
We can start to answer that question by turning to the second reading today, in which St. Paul exhorts us to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” That is, we have to change our way of thinking in order to begin to reconcile the reality of the natural evil we have just experienced with the belief that a loving God created this world.
Now, I am not going to pretend that I know what God is doing when we experience such tragedies. I don’t have special exclusive access to the mind of God. However, I can offer a few possibilities to how this can be part of God’s plan.
But first, I need to talk about two principles about God that we should keep in mind.
- The first thing to keep in mind is that God does not cause evil. The God who is goodness and love itself did not create evil. Evil is the absence of good, like cold is the absence of heat. That goes for both moral evils like lying and for natural evils like the destruction caused by storms. God allows evil; he does not create it.
- The second principle to keep in mind is that God is interested in the health of our souls. He desires for us to be holy and full of charity. He cares for our bodies, too, but even our bodies are subject to death, while the soul lives forever. To the end that our bodily needs are taken care of, God has provided all the goods of the earth. So, God is concerned primarily for our souls.
As an aside: What God is not interested in is making us rich in material possessions. Material possessions are good insofar as they assist us in work and in leisure as a means to holiness. Again, our souls are God’s primary concern.
So then, how can this be part of God’s plan? I’ll give you four possibilities.
- To increase charity in the hearts of millions of Americans. We certainly need it.
- To shift our attention back to what matters most: life, family, love.
- To let his own glory and power be shown in our weakness. This is not God flexing his arms just to show what he can do with the weather. No, it’s because we rely on God when we acknowledge our own frailty. As St. Paul says, in our weakness, God’s power is brought to perfection.
- It’s the way of the cross; the way of suffering that leads us to redemption and glory.
Peter didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. But this evil thing was allowed to happen so that a great act of love could bring about the salvation of souls. It is true of our Lord’s Passion, and it is true of our present sufferings. In a mysterious way, God can even bring good out of evil if it is for the benefit of our souls.
It is my prayer that even amid the destruction that is yet to be revealed, our hearts would be filled with the presence of God, who is love. May we, too, bear witness to his presence in our souls by our acts of charity towards our neighbors.
 Matthew 16:17
 Romans 12:2
 2 Corinthians 12:9