GOSPEL: Mark 8:27-38
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
This week, I sat down to watch the movie Worth. The story dramatizes the real life story of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who was tasked to run the 9/11 victim compensation fund. In the opening scene, Ken lectures a law school class about the value of a human life. “What is a life worth” he asks? Certainly the question of what is the value of a human life is interesting to think about. But the real impact of the movie was to bring me back to my own memories of September 11th, 2001. Even on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, most of us can instantly remember where we were and what we were doing when the news that planes had hit the two towers.
There are a handful of such events that ground our lives, that we can instantly remember where we were and what we were doing when they are brought up. Victory in Europe Day in 1945. The assassination of JFK in 1963. 9/11… these moments are etched in our memories because they changed our world forever.
And now many of us remember the middle week of March 2020. When the first cases were announced in Manitoba, when the shutdowns were enacted and our whole world changed.
In more normal times, we can be guilty of just going about our lives without too much attention paid to the larger things going on in the world. The business of what to make for supper, when to water the garden, remembering to change the furnace filter and pay the water bill, of being on time for work, of making time for coffee with friends, of caring for family and making time for rest… we can be pre-occupied with all the things of living life day to day. But those moments when the picture stops us in our tracks often stick out in our memories, they even have the power to shape and form us into new and different people. Still most of the time, the big picture isn’t forefront in our minds.
Today, when Jesus takes a moment to ask his disciples who people say that he is, he is very much addressing this conflict within us of letting the small everyday things of life overtake the big picture.
Jesus and the disciples are in Caesarea Phillipi, which is not just relevant because of its place on the map. Jesus and his disciples have left Hebrew territory, and are in gentile lands. They have stepped outside of the chaos, into a place where they are mostly unknown, where they can find a moment’s rest from the crowds and religious authorities.
And it is here that Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
Being good disciples who know the faith of Israel, they provide answers that cover all the bases. John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet… all examples of roles within the Israelite religious understanding.
But Jesus takes it a step further, “Who do you say that I am?”
In a moment of insight, Peter gets it, “You are the Messiah.”
And with that revelation, Jesus takes the opportunity to unpack just what this all means. He reminds his disciples that the Messiah must undergo what the prophet Isaiah wrote about – the Suffering Servant. Rejection, persecution, suffering and death.
And all of a sudden Peter’s bubble pops. The insight he brought forward just moments earlier is gone, and he pulls Jesus aside. He begins to rebuke his teacher and master for talking this way. Jesus does not like this shift from Peter, and gives a rebuke of his own, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but human things.”
Just as we heard last week when Jesus called the Syrophoenician woman a dog, Jesus can lash out when tired and frustrated. Here again, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter might be less of a condemnation of Peter’s flub and more a frustrated teacher annoyed by one of the students interrupting the lesson because he is missing the point.
As we hear the story again, it is easy to think that we would never be as foolish as Peter to tell Jesus what to do at the precisely the wrong moment. But Peter is not special in his misunderstanding. Peter is simply wanting to preserve the relative comfort that he has found as a follower of Jesus. He has found purpose and importance, found a mentor and teacher that he wants to follow. Jesus dying will mess that all up.
Just like Peter, it is very easy for us to let our lives – our thoughts, our desires, our plans – fill the world. It is easy to come to church and to hear of God’s plan for the salvation of creation and then only a few minutes later be more concerned with what lunch will be. It is easy to let the busyness of our lives fill the world and push God aside.
And even in mid pandemic, when our busy lives have been made smaller, we probably haven’t made more room for God and faith… instead our smallness has still managed to fill our world. Peter is sidetracked by the thought of the suffering and death of his teacher and master. And we are guilty of letting the slog of just getting from one day to the next push God out of our attention.
Our fears about work, family, friends, and community push God out.
Our keeping up with news updates, or trying to ignore the news at all costs push God out.
Our navigating a world that we both miss and that is more dangerous push God out.
Our attention to politics, economics, social justice, reconciliation, climate justice and more push God out.
All of it pushes God out of our thoughts and attention.
Yet even when Peter pulls an irritated Jesus aside to rebuke him,… Jesus still finds a way to re-orient Peter’s hangs up.
You can imagine the group standing in a circle as Jesus speaks. At first when Peter identifies Jesus the Messiah, everything within the circle, within the group feels right. But then Jesus starts talking about how the Messiah must suffer and die. Peter must have felt like the world outside the circle starting to close in, dark shadows forming around the group making everything feel dangerous and overwhelming. When Peter cannot take it anymore, he pulls Jesus aside, making his circle of safety even smaller. Peter is trying desperately to hold on to what is good and comfortable, to his life following this popular teacher and preacher… not following a Messiah toward suffering and death.
But then Jesus turns from Peter, back to the disciples. Jesus opens up Peter’s little circle. Jesus pushes back the dark shadows and scary outside world. Jesus opens himself up everything around him.
The Messiah, the Son of Man, has not come to create a small comfortable circle of disciples, but to save the whole world. Jesus has come to bring the whole world back into the grace and mercy of God.
Peter’s smallness and details won’t push Jesus away. Instead the opposite happens, Peter’s life becomes part of the story of God in the world.
In fact it isn’t just Peter, nbut the story of the Messiah, the suffering and death of Messiah gathers all of our busyness – all of our concerns that fill the world, or our small day to days that take all our attention – and Messiah folds us and our lives into the story of God. We might try to push God to the margins, but faith will let go of us.
From the beginning, Jesus has reminds his disciples that the work they are doing and that this path that they are following are a part of God’s promises salvation. The way of the cross is about saving the world. And that way of cross the transforms us to the core.
It isn’t just that God is saving our troubled world, but God is changing us along the way. All of our busy, small, inward looking selves… all the thing that occupy and distract us from faith, that cause to forget God… God is folding and working them into the story of salvation, the story of grace and mercy given for all.
Peter’s desire to keep things they way they are, to keep his friend safe…. And our focus on getting through each day, living in a topsy turvey pandemic world… these things are now a part of God’s story. God story gathers us all up, no matter how much our lives try to fill up the world.
The Messiah is on the way of the cross. The way of suffering, rejection and death. But also the way of resurrection and new life.
And the Messiah is bringing us along… even when we cannot see it, even when it feels like the details of life gets in the way…. Jesus brings us in. Jesus take up his cross and carries us too… carries us to empty tombs, to resurrection and into New Life.