(for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, August 31, 2014)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:21-28, NRSV).
Peter’s motives are far from suspect.
Talk of suffering, dying, and rising runs significant risks. People won’t understand. All the years of gathering people will be wasted. Healing, thought-provoking teaching, miracles: these are proven draw cards.
Suffering and dying won’t say in vogue long – and no one understands what all this ‘rising’ talk is about.
Does Jesus really think people will gather to hear this cross-carrying message? If crowds are anything they are fickle.
Peter’s hero status is about to take a hit. He cannot imagine the rebuke that is coming. This private discussion is a putting up of his hand up to defend his Rabbi. Peter will a fight. He will draw his sword to ensure no one touches Israel’s next king.
Jesus, however, puts Peter in his place: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block…you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
I wonder if he yelled or whispered?
Either way, these words cut deep. It is like Jesus finds Peter’s sentiments to be a real temptation. Is Jesus concerned that these self-preserving ideas might find a hold in his mind?
And then Jesus’ gathers the disciples and asks even more. He not only confirms his coming passion – he is also linking it to his most constant call: ‘follow me’. Hold these two together and the crowds really will dwindle.
This Messiah is not about popularity. He is here for God.
And this God, it seems, is very different. Even when ‘enfleshed’.
Jesus holds to a unique logic: cling to life and you will lose it; give it and you will save it. His unanswered questions are disconcerting: ‘What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’
It is distant drum that takes considerable effort to hear. Even more to walk to its rhythm.
But all too soon, he warns, the saving Son of Man will return. The kingdom of the one who owns and lives this life-death-life logic will reign.
Jesus’ ‘hour’ is rapidly approaching. It makes these topsy-turvy questions more pressing than ever.