The Apostles left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. According to our understanding, someone found worthy to suffer dishonor is someone who has done something reproachable. They've failed, messed up. It’s not something to rejoice about, but that’s what the apostles do. They rejoice that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor. The lectionary today skips part of the passage. After proclaiming the Gospel before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders had the apostles flogged. This was what they had been found worthy to suffer.
Worthiness is necessary for suffering because Jesus has turned the curse of the cross into blessing. It is written “anyone who is hanged [on a tree] is a curse of God” (Dt 21:23), but “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Jesus takes the curse upon Himself and destroys that curse. Thus when we pick up our Cross and follow after Jesus, we also become blessed. We share in the very life of our savior according to the beatitude, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” With Jesus, who stands victorious at the right hand of the Father, whom the Father brought up from the netherworld, and who sings the praises of the Father, we who suffer with him for but a little while, can experience Christ’s victory over death and His exultation by the Father.
We cannot be found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus on our own initiative. It must come from the invitation of Jesus to follow him. Peter first tried to lay down his life for Jesus without the Lord’s invitation, but rather than glorify God, Peter abandons his friend. Before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter proudly said, “Master, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37). To which Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times” (Jn 13:38). But in the Gospel today we see Jesus reverse this. Peter, who once public denied knowing the Lord three times, now publicly affirms His love three times. Jesus then invites Peter to follow him to the Cross. “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… follow me.”
Through St. Paul, God invites us all to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1). This is at the heart of the meaning of the Mass. On Sunday, we gather to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. At the Divine Liturgy, recall how we have persevered in suffering for the name of Jesus. Let us acknowledge this as a gift from God when we have been found worthy to suffer for Jesus. Let suffering become an occasion for worship! When the priest elevates the host to the Father, elevate your own life through Him, with Him and in Him to God the almighty Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Join all the angels and saints in Heaven. Join every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe. Offer your whole life saying, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might forever and ever.”