Today’s Daily Office Readings – Gospel ( Matt. 16:21-28 )
“Get behind me Satan!”
Peter doesn’t want Jesus to die, as is natural for someone who has become your teacher, friend and mentor. But instead of turning around and saying, “Thanks, Peter, that’s awfully kind of you,” he turns around and says, “Get behind me Satan!”
Seriously? What? I’m sure Peter meant no harm by it. Or didn’t he?
“You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Human things, Peter was thinking about “human things.”
Things like power, control, respect, and the feeling of safety.
He didn’t want Jesus to be rebuked and ridiculed by the powers of the day. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer at the hands of those who held the power. He didn’t want Jesus to die.
Instead, he wanted Jesus to lead, to show his mighty power, to be in command.
The way to true power, Jesus tells him, is to pick up his cross, to deny himself, to lose his life for the sake of Christ.
Talk about a bad Membership Drive:
“Come join us! Lose your life in order to find it!”
But that is, in fact, the rallying cry of the Gospel. Christ suffered and died for our sins – exactly what Peter didn’t want to have happen to him. He endured the humiliation and pain of of the cross, so that his work of unending love might be made supreme over the power of death. And if we choose to let go of the earthly desires for power, control, and instead seek to move in Love, then we too will find freedom and power – they just won’t look like the earthly versions of those same things.
But just like Peter, I think too many of us fall into the temptation to focus on the things of this earth; to see the power to control others and the respect to persuade people to do as we decree as real goals of our religion:
“We have to vote for Candidate X, so that we can pack the supreme court with judges who will vote according to our faith.”
“We need to vote against Candidate Z, because he is a godless heathen who doesn’t agree with our morality.”
These may be valid reasons for voting, but in some of my past experiences, the focus turns to how to make other people live their lives according to our beliefs by enacting laws that will force them to do so, rather than changing their hearts and letting them make their own moral choices.
In other words, we focus on the earthly power, at the expense of doing the work of the Gospel.
One of the denominations I spent time in several years ago, focused heavily on the anti-abortion movement. I was a bit of anomaly in that group, since rather than wanting to see people stand outside an abortion clinic calling people sinners, murderers, and spitting on them as they entered, I wanted people to sit down with those who might consider walking into a clinic to understand their reasoning for making this choice. Was the choice driven by an economic nature, were they receiving intense pressure from parents, lovers, or friends. In the end, the choice should be theirs, but if their choices were dependent upon economic factors, or societal issues, then couldn’t we sacrifice of our own time to right those wrongs, rather than essentially wasting our time standing outside a clinic showering them with hatred instead of God’s love?
That type of thinking earned me quite a bit of rebuke. Because, I was told, we needed to make sure that people followed God’s law, and if we had the political clout to change the laws of the land to force people to do so, then we should. My responding argument was always to say that if we have not changed the hearts of people, and instead are forcing them to modify their behavior to meet our demands, then all we have done is made our religion a battering ram and taken on the role of the oppressor. It didn’t matter if the issue was abortion, or abolition, if we were going to wage the battles for morality in the courtrooms, rather than in the hearts of those we met, then in the end we would need to be ready to follow the laws of those who might make us bow down to another god when Christianity becomes nothing more than the religion of the minority.
And then where would that earthly power be?