Sunday the Twenty-second

Sorry for the lack of timely posting ... Here it is, albeit late. Irene knocked out power and internet.

I call to You all day long, have mercy on me, O Lord. You are good and forgiving, full of love for all who call to you (Psalm 85:3, 5).

My soul is thirsting for You, O Lord my God. (Psalm 63).

     “You duped (פָּתָה, pathah) me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” (Jeremiah 20:7).”
     “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind (ὀπίσω, opiso) me, Satan (σατανᾶ, Satana)! You are an obstacle (σκάνδαλον, scandalon) to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.. (Matthew 16:21-35).”

"Dupe" is an interesting translation in the NAB Bible of the Hebrew ָּתָה, pathah. The Revised Edition of the NAB uses the verb "seduce," which is closer in meaning to the original. Either way, "dupe" or "seduce" do not seem appropriate ways to describe God’s manner of dealing with humanity, especially a person like Jeremiah who is doing God’s work as a prophet. One thing is certain here, Jeremiah is quite angry with God. In the verses leading up to this Sunday’s proclamation, we learn that Jeremiah had been arrested and put in stocks for essentially doing God’s work. Jeremiah appears confused - ‘I do the Lord’s work and this is the thanks I get?’ Isn’t this the same question many of ask when misfortune comes our way. ‘Why are you doing this to me God, I’m one of your ‘good ones?’

Jeremiah rightly terms his entrance into ministry as a seduction. Jeremiah sees, hears and senses a life and love that ignites a life within in a way that even he finds hard to explain. He know the pleasure of speaking on God’s behalf (technically what the Hebrew word nabi [prophet] means) yet has not come to grips with the fact that this proclamation of the Word requires some very important lessons, most notably the distinction between message and messenger. The misfortunes, detours and derailments of life are products of a fallen, yet redeemed world. None of us gets a pass. We are in the world and the setbacks - both the unexpected and the ones-seen-coming - are part of life. The person and persons in covenant relationship with the Lord of Life are challenged to learn the lesson that only God has the final word, not the things that go wrong. In time, Jeremiah does learn this lesson and sees in his lifetime that suffering can be redemptive.

Like Jeremiah, Peter still has a ways to go in being formed as the Master’s disciple. Last week’s proclamation saw Jesus Himself rejoicing in the work that His Father was doing in the life of Peter and how Peter was cooperating. Peter has come to faith that Jesus is the Christ. Wonderful. But what exactly does it mean to confess Jesus as the Christ? In what seems to be an instant, Peter reverts to a purely human way of viewing the world. When Jesus speaks about His suffering that will be redemptive, Peter’s knee-jerk reaction is to literally ‘stand in front’ of Jesus and “trip” Him in His journey to Jerusalem. Note carefully the text. When Peter balks at Jesus’s words, Jesus commands Peter to “get behind (ὀπίσω, opiso).” What has happened? Peter lost his sense of where he is to be relative to Jesus. The disciple is always behind the Master. Recall Moses and his incessant plea to God to see the Divine Face. When Moses was eventually permitted to gaze upon God, the choreography was quite clear. Moses was placed in a cleft (a cut out) in the rock, God’s hand covered Moses and withdrew in time to see only the back of God. When the disciple is anywhere except behind the Master, the disciple becomes a scandolon (scandal, obstacle). Scandolon in Jesus’s day was graphically and tragically described as ‘putting a rock in the path of a blind person.’ The horror of that picture fills us with indignation. And yet that is precisely the stinging word that Jesus addresses to Peter.

This background is important to understand Jesus’s address to Peter as “Satan.” There is no soft-pedaling this one. Even from a linguistic point of view, Jesus addressed Peter as Satan (the vocative case in Greek). The difficulty is that when many people hear the word “Satan,” images abound. Some think of the red, hoofed creature wielding a pitch fork against a backdrop of sky and ocean wrapped in fire. Some might think of Satan in terms of the ‘litte bad voice’ on one shoulder competing with the good angel on the other shoulder prompting us to do certain things. Some may recall the 1970's comedian Flip Wilson and his famous quip, "the Devil made me do it” or more recently Dana Carvey’s portrayal of "Church Lady" and her propensity to make Satan responsible for all evil. All of these fall short of the Gospel presentation of Satan as the one who hinders the plan of redemption by attempting to remove the Cross from reality. Sadly, when Satan is confined in our lives to ‘the bad voice,’ Satan actually accomplishes more as the deadly work of twisting our minds and hearts to weaken the Cross and its necessity alters the Christian Gospel and hinders the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus in no way sugar-coats His words to Peter. They are blunt and stinging which probably left Peter thinking, ‘what just happened? I thought I was doing something nice for my friend, wasn’t I?’ Admittedly the Cross is not attractive and its pain is repulsive to life. Yet the Cross does stand in a Christian center. Without the Cross, there can be no transformation because the ‘work’ of the Cross is essentially the first commandment Jesus gives at the start of His Public Ministry, “Be converted (μετανοεῖτε, metanoeite [Mark 1:15]).” The Cross draws one from self to Other, not just in actions but also in words and thoughts. Thinking, speaking and acting gradually become less self-centerred and more focused on the other - AND - as good as this truly is, the Cross of Jesus redeems all. Yes, a world of greater selflessness would be wonderful, but that selflessness can only occur as the fruit of redemption, a redemption won by Christ, Christ crucified. Jesus’ insistance on the Cross is not to create a utopian society but a community of people “bought back” from death to life eternal.

Almighty God,
every good thing comes from You.
Fill our hearts with love for You,
increase our faith,
and by Your constant care
protect the good You have given us.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and
the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

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