“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:18–19
On this, the third time that Jesus appeared to His disciples, Jesus enters into a threefold discourse with Peter. Each time that Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, Peter responds that he does. And Jesus responds back each time, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” The passage quoted above concludes Jesus’ discourse with Peter using very powerful language. Jesus tells Peter that when he grows old, “someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” This was Jesus’ way of saying to Peter that he would ultimately express his love of Jesus by dying for Him. As we know, tradition states that Peter was ultimately crucified. And at Peter’s request, he was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy of dying in the exact same way Jesus died.
As we consider this conversation between Jesus and Peter, it is clear that Jesus’ understanding of love is very different from the way many others understand it today. Jesus was not only telling Peter that he would die for Jesus, but Jesus was clearly offering His approval of this act of love Peter would one day offer. Most often when we love someone, we would do all we can to keep them from any such fate. In fact, when a loved one suffers, we often will do all we can to look for a way to relieve them of that suffering. So which approach is most loving?
Clearly, Jesus sees suffering differently than most of us. For Jesus, suffering is not opposed to love when the suffering is freely embraced for a higher purpose. Suffering in and of itself is of no value. But when suffering is embraced sacrificially out of love for another, it is able to take on tremendous power. And when Jesus offered His clear support to Peter who would one day die out of love for Jesus, Jesus was focusing upon the eternal merit that would be won by Peter’s cross. The fact that Jesus did not shy away from Peter’s future sacrificial suffering is one of the clearest signs of Jesus’ more perfect love for Peter.
Reflect, today, upon your attitude toward the sufferings that your loved ones endure. Do you find that your primary goal is to rid them of their sufferings? Or do you understand that even their sufferings have the potential to become a source of their own holiness and the source of grace for others? Strive to see suffering as Jesus sees it. Look at the sacrificial love that is made possible when your loved ones unite their sufferings to the Cross of Christ and try to commit yourself to the mission of helping them embrace that sacred gift of love.
My most compassionate Jesus, in Your great love for us all, You desire that we unite our sufferings to Your Cross so that all suffering shares in Your redemptive love. Give me the grace I need to not only embrace my own sufferings in life out of love for You but to also help those whom I love to live sacrificially by embracing the crosses they carry out of love. Jesus, I trust in You.