A reflection Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38 by Jacqueline Schmitt
There is so much about Jesus that we now, here, today, take for granted; after all, we know the end of the story. Our culture is filled with worn cliches about Jesus, who is either our cozy buddy or our moralistic judge. So much of what has happened – actually all of the past 2000 years of western civilization – gets in the way of our understanding of who he really is in the pages of the Gospels.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They trot out the usual answers, drawn from their experience with religious figures: Elijah, who was an ancient Jewish prophet, John the Baptist, who cried out in the wilderness. That would be the predictable thing, to understand Jesus because he was like someone we already knew about. But then Jesus surprises them – and us – by asking them – and us, the readers of this encounter, “Who do YOU say that I am?”
Peter delivers the surprise line now: You are the Christ. You are the Messiah. You are the leader with royal stature and political power to lead us in a revolution against all that oppresses us. You are the one who will deliver us from the power of the Roman Empire and the corruption of the Jewish authorities. You are the Man.
We can hear a tune playing in the back of Peter’s head: “happy days are here again.” Visions of sugar plums, their side winning, the oppression of the cruel Romans routed out, no more crippling taxes, health care with a public option, leaders with true spiritual and moral integrity restored to the Temple in Jerusalem. These plans sound good. Isn’t this where you’ve been heading all along, Jesus?
Then Jesus delivers the really surprising salvo: “Get behind me Satan.” What you have in mind are merely human expectations; you need to set your mind on what God has planned, and for the short term, it won’t be pretty. God has sent me here to confront all those evil things that you mention: the powers and principalities that work against what God has in mind for humanity. But they will fight back, and I will suffer and die. And to follow me means sharing in that fight, in that suffering, even in that death. This way is difficult, but this is the way to life, to justice, to abundance, to mercy, to love, to community, to life.
No, this is not an easy lesson to preach on. It’s so much easier to preach on the abundance Jesus promises, or the healing he delivers, or many times he fed and taught and touched people in need.
The Epistle is a difficult, harsh reading, but it makes a point: Last week the emphasis was, “Watch your actions! Keep them true to your words – faith without works is dead.” This week it is, “Watch your words!” Perhaps Peter should have followed such advice, for his words in answer to Jesus’ question caused Jesus to erupt in an angry rebuke.
I came across a quote from a theologian reminding me that the parables of Jesus are stories about how God is searching for us, seeking the lost and the least, not the triumphalistic and powerful. He wrote, “The Christian Church does not offer men and women a route map to God. Instead it tells them by what means they might be found by [God].”
So often, when we seek God, the temptation is to look for a reflection of our own needs, to find the key to our own selves. But these two lessons remind us when we get in this business of a relationship with God that God takes the lead – God looks for us – God asks tough questions of us – God directs us to places we never thought we’d go. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asks us. This is not the final exam, but it is an invitation to follow him and to find out more.
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