Summary: PENTECOST 15,YEAR A - Drawing upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer I discuss "costly grace"
The story is told about a small, country church where the pastor called a special meeting of the congregation to approve the purchase of a brand new chandelier. After some discussion pro and con, an old farmer stood up and said,
"Buying a new chandelier may seem like a good idea to you, but I’m against it for three reasons. First of all, it’s too expensive and we can’t afford one. Second, there isn’t anybody around here who knows how to play one. And third, what we really need in this church is a new light fixture."
In a way this story illustrates one of the basic points in today’s gospel. No matter how well-intentioned, sometimes even the best of Jesus’ followers get things wrong. But if they are fortunate, there will be a word from Jesus that puts them back on the right track.
WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT I AM?
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter had answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." What an amazing and bold statement that was! Peter had been with Jesus for three years now. He had heard Jesus teach, had watched his interaction with people, had witnessed a number of miraculous healings, had seen the dead raised to life, had been impressed by Jesus’ prayer life, his close relationship to the Father, had observed his calmness even in a storm on the Sea of Galilee…Yes, that was the time… when they said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?" Having seen all that and thought about it, Peter has come to a conviction. He is quite persuaded that Jesus is the Messiah - the one God has long since promised to send, the one the whole Jewish people were longing for with eager expectation… But not only so. Peter has grasped something even deeper. Jesus the Messiah is "the Son of the living God". Peter was a hero. He understood who Jesus really was. He understood that Jesus was no mere man, but a living part of the God of creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus was the Son of God who came to this earth to show and to tell the people of God, the Israelites, about God in a very real and personally way. Peter had put it all together for that moment at least, he knew who Jesus was.
MAY IT NOT BE SO, LORD!
But now, just a few short days later, Peter quickly changes from the hero to the heel, from one who is expounding great truth, to one who is babbling and carrying on about things that he doesn’t understand, or even want to understand. Peter changes so quickly in fact, that Jesus equates him with the devil when he says, "Get behind me Satan" you are tempting me, you are hindering me, you are trying to make me change my mind about the course that I must take. What did Peter do so wrong to change so quickly from the hero to a dupe in just a few short minutes? Although Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, he didn’t grasp what that all meant. The Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah who would bring political restoration and economic prosperity. The Messiah was expected to lead the nation, to renew a glorious kingdom. When they thought of the Messiah, they were looking for a King. They weren’t prepared for a suffering Servant. Neither was Peter. His hope was in a glorious leader, one who would whip the butts of all who stood in the way of God’s reign, and set up a kingdom of peace and prosperity. That was his idea of a Messiah. So when Jesus began to talk about his suffering and death (and resurrection!), Peter objected, "God forbid it, Lord! That must never happen to you!" It was impossible for one promised to bring glory to suffer, never mind being halted by the cruel judgment of a cross.
THE REASON THE SON HAD TO COME
In light Peter’s great confession, Jesus now had to explain the true nature of his Messiahship. Now that they knew who he was, Jesus needed to tell the disciples what he was about. He needed to let them know what truly lay ahead for him. The crux of the matter is that it is one thing to believe in who Jesus is, that is the easy part, it is a far harder thing to accept the purpose for which he came. Jesus told the disciples that he would suffer at the hands of the religious rulers, he would in fact be put to death by these ruler, but God would raise him on the third day. Jesus was explaining the concept of the lowly messiah, the Suffering Servant, to the disciples and that was not easy to hear! So Peter out of love and respect, out of his own ideas about the Messiah, out of his own sense of glory and righteousness took Jesus in his large arms and said, "God forbid, Lord. This shall never happen to you." Peter could not let Jesus suffer because he loved him so much. He could not let Jesus suffer because he could not believe in a Messiah that was nothing less than a conquering Messiah. He could not let Jesus suffer because that was n ot the dreams and the expectations he had of Jesus, and the dreams and expectation he had of himself as a follower of Jesus. No, suffering was not apart of all of this, thought Peter.