"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg of Living Lord Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, FL
21 From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 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.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 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? 27 “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. 28 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.” our gospel reading for Sunday, September 3rd, 2023
"Get Behind Me, Satan!"
Whoa! Peter's "anointing" as the rock on which Jesus' church will be built (from last week's gospel) is short-lived. In the very next verses after his anointing, Peter is rebuked by Jesus when he tells Peter and his disciples that he must suffer at the hands of the leadership of the temple, and be killed. This is not how the Messiah, the Holy One of God was supposed to go about his work of taking down the oppression that was the Roman empire. Peter's Jewish sensibilities had told him that the Messiah was to tear down the systems of oppression that existed, and like a warrior, establish a new kingdom free from the tyranny of Rome. Like a swashbuckling savior, the Messiah was to have been ushered in with armor, vengeance, and a sword. A mighty warrior king. He wasn't supposed to come just to simply die at the hands of the temple leadership. Where's the good news in that!?
Maybe, for Jesus, his time in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan multiple times, was still very raw for him. And he sees and hears in Peter's "God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you" as another temptation. A temptation to maybe take an easier way. To avoid suffering and death. You can almost hear in Peter's "plea" something like the following, "But Jesus, there's an easier way. Follow me and I'll show you how you can avoid the suffering you're talking about. Just set up shop elsewhere and everything will be fine. Trust me!" You can just hear something like this in Peter's taking exception to Jesus' prediction about suffering and dying. But we know Jesus, never one to walk around things to avoid confrontation, right?
It's the human in Peter. It's the human in us, isn't it? I mean, who signs up for a job that leads to suffering? To death? Aren't there other ways to make a living? We're taught to strive to live the good life. A life of good things, no suffering, no pain. A life of luxury. A life of fun, good times. So when Peter hears from Jesus that the Son of Man must suffer and then die, it's hard to digest. I certainly don't think it's what he thought he was signing up for as the "rock" of the church.
I often think of how we grieve at the loss of a loved one, or a sudden and dramatic change in our lives, or the lives of those we love. Most of us don't want to engage in sorrow, or feelings of loss. We're not taught that. So when we confront the death of a loved one, we do everything we can to fill those uneasy moments of silence with "noise", in order not to deal with our own emotions. To look only at the sunny side of things.
But, there is one more part of this conversation between Jesus and Peter. And this is the gospel promise. "And on the third day be raised", Jesus says. This is this loving act that Jesus has come to perform, so that for Peter, his disciples, and you and me, his death, our death will not be final. Our death, our suffering, the challenges of our lives, will not have the final say in our lives. This journey of Jesus is not just about being handed over to the authorities. It's not just about being put to death on a cross, humiliated and laid bare for all to see. No, it's about the next thing - resurrection. Death is temporary, and fleeting now, with Jesus having suffered death. Fleeting and temporary because Jesus beats death. Beats the finality of a body in a rotting tomb.
Peter, like us, sees Jesus through his human lens - his human sensibilities. But Jesus breaks open that way of seeing things, inviting us to see the world through his divine lens. As he reminds Peter in v. 23 above, we are setting our minds on human things, and not on divine things. Peter sees Jesus now through a lens of death and suffering. But Jesus invites Peter, and now us, to see him through the lens of life beyond death. Life that is no longer bound by death, but lives into life eternal.
I'll say more about this in my message on Sunday, but I invite you to read the gospel lesson more closely, and see if you don't see this "divine" thing in Jesus' message to Peter. I love Peter. He's us. He's human. Sometimes he gets it, but mostly, he sees the world just as you and I do - through our human, flawed, imperfect lens. But trust in God through Christ that this view is only part of the gospel story. The rest lies in the promise of the cross, thanks be to God. Amen.