Have you noticed how so many good TV series leave you with a cliff-hanger ending to the episode, not the ones where it is obvious what will happen but those who leave you with a sense of anticipation because you really aren't sure what will happen next. Those where the unfurling story takes strange twists and turns and perhaps even when the beginning only makes sense right at the end, and even then there are questions. I am sure you can think of examples!
Just pause for a moment and watch this story unfold, our story is coming to a crunch point and I want to take you back to last week's episode, to the cliff hanger ending of the Gospel reading, the ending that should have left you asking for more, and possibly left you with one big question; "Why not?"
Just in case you missed it Jesus has been quizzing his disciples, " who do people say I am?", and finally;
15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Wow, put yourself in Peter's shoes, he has got it right, this revelation is not from himself and his deductive thinking, but God himself has revealed to Peter the truth of who Jesus is, great things are about to happen....
Then Jesus sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone... queue the music, credits roll; what Jesus? Why not Jesus? Surely this is good news, really good news, the long awaited Messiah, the Saviour of Israel, the one we've been waiting for has come and we are to say nothing, nothing at all?
So how about this weeks story, here are Peter and the others with the keys to the kingdom of heaven in their hearts and minds standing on the threshold of something new and wonderful, and Jesus begins to speak to them about suffering, the suffering and death that he has to undergo! Confusion reigns, this cannot be, why on earth would the Messiah have to suffer...
Once again Peter steps in as spokesman and is rounded upon by Jesus, "Get behind me Satan"!
What is going on? Lets pause for a moment and unpack that sentence on which this passage hinges, the meaning of the term of name Satan is actually opponent, so what is Jesus saying to and of Peter? Has Peter just become the devil incarnate, or is there something more subtle and more dangerous going on? Could it be that Peter's view of who the Messiah is and what he has come for is in direct opposition to God's ways?
Just think for a while on God's ways as revealed in Jesus...
How he left the glory of heaven and slipped into frail, vulnerable human flesh, born in obscurity and poverty...
How even as a babe he became a refugee, fleeing the slaughter of the innocents...
How he grew and learned a trade, grew and grew in understanding of God's ways, and then when the time was right submitted himself to baptism, struggled against the opponent within him in the desert and emerged to bring the good news of God's coming kingdom not into Temple in Jerusalem, the heart and seat of power of those who called themselves God's chosen people but to the outcast, the lepper, the tax collector, the foreigner, the adulterer and the prostitute, to all who were pushed to the margins and rejected by society Jesus came, healing, accepting, teaching and releasing. Living out the message that all are welcome and none are excluded!
Now he speaks of entering into necessary suffering, and while Peter does not understand it this too is good news, for he calls us to follow him!
This is good news, for he calls us to follow him, to follow him against the will of our internal voices that call out for ease and comfort and a decent standard of living. Listen again to Jesus:
If you want to follow Me, you must deny yourself the things you think you want. You must pick up your cross and follow Me. The person who wants to save his life must lose it, and she who loses her life for Me will find it. Look, does it make sense to truly become successful, but then to hand over your very soul? What is your soul really worth?
Your soul of course is infinetly valuable, it tells you who you are body, mind and spirit in Christ, when we follow the way of Jesus we become hidden with Christ in God and our world expands beyond our limited wishes and desires.
To leave ourselves behind means becoming more, it means having our hearts open to the other, to the outcasts, to the vulnerable, to any that we might formerly have called "other"!
Jesus is going to walk the road to Jerusalem and he will not be opposed, and he calls us to follow him, to break away the barriers, and tear down the walls in our minds that keep us sanitised and safe from the world. In a world where there is so much turmoil and pain this is good news, to the people of Gaza and Israel, of Syria and Iraq this is good news for in the eyes of Christ they are not other but infinetly precious and included. To the confused and traumatised people of Rotherham this is good news, for he sees their hurts, and in his woundedness brings healing through his body here on earth if we too dare to bear his wounds and cry out for justice. To the poor and marginalised in our town this is good news if we like him choose to satnd with them and open our eyes to the truth that we are one!
The Church is not called to maintain lovely buildings and hold Committee meetings ( though that often consumes our time), rather it is called as the people of God, the body of Christ to enter into his suffering, to take on his vulnerable flesh and to bear his wounds, to move beyond the barriers and boundaries of respectability and to put on Christ in love...
The choice is ours, are we those who will dare to follow, or do we prefer our own kingdom, our place of saftey, our will and ways? If that is our choice we might perhaps here Jesus challenge to us as Peter did, do not oppose me... "Get behind me Satan!" I hope we will choose the better path, the more daring and inclusive path, that we will choose to walk the way of the cross, to become those who in Christ turn the world upside down until it and we find ourselves the right way up at last! What a series ending that would be!!!
Out of the darkness light; Image mine