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Look up the meaning of the word, Palliative. How does it differ from solution? Cambridge English dictionary defines palliative as reducing pain without curing the cause of the pain. It goes further to expand the meaning as making a problem seem less serious but not solving the problem or making it disappear. The word palliative is mostly used in hospitals and medical settings to deliver a treatment plan in cases that seem critical. For instance, The World Health Organization (WHO) describes palliative care as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.” The crucial phrase in that definition, “through the prevention and relief of suffering,” provides the goal of palliative treatment. By the way, the Latin root of the word “palliative” is palliare which means to cloak. Therefore, palliative attempts to mitigate or cloak the problem to lessen its effects.

Solution, on the other hand, deals with the roots of a problem. To give a solution means to deal with the problem headlong, to provide the key to the problem. A solution does not look for shortcuts or escape routes, rather, it faces the tough tasks of getting to the core of the matter. Think about these two words in relation to the covid conundrum when the word palliative became popular. World governments and organizations, including medical science, provided palliative to the covid menace. No one could find solution to the problem. The problem with covid has remained because we focused on palliatives and not on the solution. The reason is simple, though easily deniable. Sometimes, solutions are hard to find. Solutions are not always palatable. Solutions are not always the expected results. Solutions can expose odd realities that challenge the status quo. Facing solutions can be painful.

The readings of today present us with the clear distinction between palliatives and solutions within the spiritual realm. The prophet Jeremiah is the first example. Jeremiah laments that God has “duped” him. And we can ask what exactly the prophet means. Jeremiah is going through a tough time, after having called out the temple priest Pashhur. Jeremiah wants to escape. His work of prophecy has been met with utter rejection and he feels frustrated. The Lord will not let Jeremiah run away, instead bids him to continue the mission entrusted to his care. The solution is not in running away as the Lord makes him to understand. The challenges and desperations are real. Jeremiah exclaims, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” Running away is only a palliative, whereas the solution resides in clinging to the word of God.

Peter replicates the Jeremiah spirit in the gospel (Matt. 16:21-27). It will be unlikely to say that Peter is not as frustrated with Christ as Jeremiah is with God. It will be surprising if Peter is not saying in his mind, “Jesus, you duped me and I let myself be duped.” Jesus opens Peter’s eyes to the reality of his mission, that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die in the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to rise on the third day. That version of Jesus’ mission does not add up for Peter, so he yells out to the master, “God forbid! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter is saying to Christ, let’s go around this suffering and get things done. He is telling Jesus, in the popular Nigerian slang, “It is not your portion.”

This is the palliative approach. One might ask, what is wrong with Peter’s approach here, that warrants Jesus to address him as “Satan,” with a warning to get behind him? In human terms and within human diagnostic eyes, Peter's approach is perfectly alright. Jesus spots that out when he says, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Watch the language here carefully. Jesus does not condemn Peter in his entirety, but condemns this aspect of Peter, “as human beings do.’ The palliative Peter is succumbing to human wills, just thinking as humans do. Humans seek shortcut. Humans wish away suffering. Humans want easy way. Humans do not understand the mind of God especially amidst challenges and difficulties. The prophet is clear about this when he writes, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is. 55:8).

However, Jesus leads Peter to a deeper understanding of God’s will by offering the three-way solution, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). This is a hard calling, especially given the mindset of the world. Self-denial is a huge task because of humanity’s controlling attitude that is pervasive in our time. Self-denial implies detachment from our attractions and passions. Self-denial sees the end result just the way God has ordained it. Taking up the cross can occur at various instances in one’s life. And what might be this cross? Obviously, it varies for individuals. In certain cases, we are not ready to take up our crosses, rather, we want the cross to get away. No one is ready to take up a cross. No one is ready to suffer. The human mind wants things to go easy and simple, hence we miss the divine purpose of the cross. But Christ does not offer palliatives at the time of suffering, hence the difficulty to follow him. Think about it this way, we want our prayers answered as quickly as possible. We want pleasure, comfort, and luxury. When we are sick, we want physical healing. We need money. We want success. We want things to flow, else we look for detours to make them happen. Those are palliatives.

Today, Jesus reminds us, using Peter as an example, to seek solutions instead of palliatives. The Christian mind ought to go beyond palliatives, albeit they are popular. Solutions last forever especially if they are divinely inspired. Paul warns, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” That is the key, “God’s will” in our lives.

Let’s ask a practical theological question: What is the issue with praying for a happy, holy death for someone who’s critically ill, rather than wishing a recovery? The answer is because the ultimate solution is to make heaven. Recovery happens by God’s grace, and death also happens by God’s grace, as Paul says, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:8). That is not easy. To ask God to bless a sick person with the reward of heaven is a great gift. Sometimes, the immediate human reaction becomes, “God forbid! It is not your portion! You shall not die!” Christ teaches us today that our portion is to unite with God’s will, to unite our sufferings to the Cross of Christ, and to look towards God for grace. To think as men do is to seek palliatives. To think as God does is to seek solution in Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Readings: 1st- Jer. 20:7-9; 2nd- Rom. 12:1-2; Gospel- Matt. 16:21-27

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To think as men do is to seek for palliatives while to think as God does is to seek for a lasting solution, for God is the way, Truth and life. Thanks alot fr. Vin.

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