Getting behind Jesus
Lectionary blog for Aug. 31, 2014
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8;
Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
By Delmer Chilton
I heard a story recently about a 5-year-old boy and his grandfather. Carmen was a notoriously picky eater. Grandpa’s dinnertime rule was that you don’t have to eat everything on your plate, but you do have to taste it.
On this occasion, Grandpa dished up a full plate of everything for all the kids. Looking at his food Carmen asked, “Grandpa, would it be OK if I asked God to help me eat my dinner tonight?” Gramps smiled at this and said, “Sure, go ahead.” Carmen bowed his head and said a silent prayer and then he divided up the food on his plate into two piles: a large pile of food he didn’t like and a small pile of food he did like. Then, he ate the small pile and asked to be excused from the table. Grandpa eyed the plate and said, “What about the rest of the food on your plate? You haven’t tasted it.” Carmen said, “That’s OK. That’s God’s part.”
Sometimes I wonder, is that the way I divide things up with God? Do I indulge myself in the parts of Christianity that I like and push off to the edges the parts I don’t like, assuming God will take care of that stuff? Does my idea of working with God mainly consist of picking and choosing among the pleasant and enjoyable aspects of being a person of faith, all the while leaving the messy, grunt work for God? Those are the questions that lurk underneath our Gospel lesson.
Today’s Gospel follows directly on the heels of last week’s story about Simon proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus responding by renaming Simon – calling him Peter, the Rock.
This week, Jesus lays out for the disciples what it really means for him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It means rejection, abuse, suffering and death. Peter is not ready to hear this. He takes Jesus aside, and the text says, “rebuked him.” That’s very strong language. He didn’t just disagree, he didn’t just have questions; he called Jesus out; he told him he was wrong; he said, “God forbid it Lord, this must never happen to you.”
And Jesus said, “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.”
In what amounts to one conversation, Peter and Jesus have gone from praising one another – “You are the Messiah.” “You are the Rock.” – to rebuking and condemning one another.
Peter goes from being told he is directly inspired by God, to being told he has his mind on human, not holy, things. Instead of being praised as the rock upon which the church will be built, he is called a stumbling block, an obstacle to the Son of God.
Why? Because Peter was not ready to hear the difficult truth that is part of the good news. He was not ready to think about the downside of the building up of the kingdom of heaven.
Peter is ready to do the part he likes – preaching, teaching, healing and receiving the appreciation of the masses. He is not ready to do the part he doesn’t like – the rejection, the fear, the abuse, the sheer terror and loneliness, death. Even though he was willing to profess that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, he is not ready to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow wherever that messiah might lead him.
Retired Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz tells a story of a conversation he had with the team chaplain, Walt Wiley. John asked, “What prevents me from living life the way I want to until I’m in my mid-40s and then settling down and living for Christ?” Walt replied, “Nothing, except for one thing. You don’t control your next breath. But you can take that chance if you want to.”
Christ calls us to commitment now, not next week, not next year, or after the kids are grown, or when I retire, or whenever it’s more convenient. Christ calls us to commitment now, today, this minute. And the thing that stops us is the same thing that stopped Peter that day long ago. It’s the same thing that stopped Carmen from eating all his veggies, the same thing that tempted John Smoltz away from the gospel. We are addicted to our own enjoyment and pleasure and are unwilling to give it up, either for the sake of Christ or for the benefit of others.
The Gospel this day calls us to turn our backs on the tempting allure of the pursuit of happiness and to place our lives and our fortunes at the service of the pursuit of holiness. Jesus has laid before us a simple and clear choice in his words to Peter. No, I don’t mean the famous triad of deny self, take up cross, and follow. They are merely commentary on the really important thing Jesus said earlier.
“Get behind me Satan!”
Jesus didn’t say, “Get out of my way.” He didn’t say, “Stop bothering me.” He didn’t say, “You’re evil and I cast you into the outer darkness.” No, Jesus said to Satan the same thing he says to all of us, “Get behind me.”
There’s only one right place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
There’s only one truly satisfying place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
There’s only one completely fulfilling place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
Everyone, including Satan, is invited to fall in line. We are called upon to get behind Jesus as he leads us into the world to spread the kingdom of heaven, the unfailing and inescapable love of God. It is not an easy calling. It is not always pleasant. It often seems unrewarding and unreasonable, but it is where Christ has called us to be. Will we get behind Jesus and follow him into the midst of the world’s suffering peoples, abandoning our lives into the grip of God’s love?
Amen and amen.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.