Saturday, 30 August 2014

Getting in the way

GospelMatthew 16:21-27 

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
  Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
  ‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.

To think I never used to like Peter - but I was younger then and more certain of what was right and wrong - I was probably a lot like Peter; that's often the way it works.

Peter finds it hard to follow. Peter is way beyond the age of following. He is the head of a family,  a business man and the captain of a fishing boat. Used to responsibility and harsh choices. Of a similar age to Jesus; he could have, with the business and the family, the greater standing in the community. It would be customary to regard Peter as an elder, someone to be respected, someone who you would turn to for advice and guidance.

Surely, no-one with this sense of responsibility  is going to stand by and listen to their friend lay out the plans of their own death. Peter has made some challenging changes to his life; he has stepped out of his own boat long ago to walk with this man; he stepped out of yet another boat to risk his life to this man and now he is being asked to leave another boat behind  - the boat that puts him in control of 'what should happen next'. 

  Was it only last week that Peter recognised his friend as the Son of God?  Now this week he thinks that the rock Jesus placed him on means he can decide what God can do. 

The Hebrew meaning for satan is to oppose or obstruct. Often what we want to oppose or obstruct is change or freedom. And it seems so justifiable. Love often plays outs rather than 'wanting the best' as 'knowing the best'. 

We have to imagine that not everything the world offers is wrong  - the world is, after all, full of God - but then we have to ask ourselves if sometimes we are tempted by ideas that do obstruct our following of the Way, especially when the way is dark and uncomfortable. 

Matthew speaks to his own persecuted people, surely tempted with denying their faith and their friends. Surely tempted to find another, violent or underhand way, to belong, to be accepted. 

Peter was never Satan, but the request he made - out of his sense of love - was. 

Jesus is beginning to give voice to the path he was destined to take; each word uttered out loud making it more realistic, more true. For Jesus, 'power' means the power to submit to a dream greater than his own. It's not an easy choice to make. And then to have his closest friend say  - No, you can't do this to me, You mean too much to me. You can't leave me -   must have been an even greater temptation than those on the mountaintop.

 It can be so difficult to give those you love their own freedom. 'If you love someone you let them go' - no wonder that was written by 'Anonymous' - how hard it is to do. Even harder to release them to the mystery of God's Will - why Peter struggles with the need to suffer, why we still do today. 

 Jesus doesn't turn his back on Peter, only the temptation and the show of ego that tried to put Peter in charge of Jesus' life; to second-guess God. 

Which is why he says to all of them that they must renounce themselves -not who they are in God's eyes - but who they are in their own eyes and the eyes of the world.  

The cross is heavy enough without trying to balance ego and ambition - one or the other will topple - which is up to you. 



Roberta Desalle said...

Word, I found this presentation of the gospel very powerful---particularly the last sentence you gave us.

Claire Bangasser said...

I am wondering when I behave like Peter. Today. I have no answer, but I am going to think about it. Thank you.

Gelli Ma said...

Thanks both. A challenge of a gospel in many ways.