Thank You, Peter

Mr. Bryan Spoon, Seminarian

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

It is likely we have all said or done something to someone we loved that caused their rebuke.  Perhaps we said something to our mother, father, husband, or wife, said something to a member of our family or to a friend that was the cause of frustration, hurt, or pain.

I’ve had plenty of bloopers in my own life.  Some funny, some pathetic, and some downright painful.  I’ve done things with the very best of intentions only to fall short and have to work through the pain and frustration of repairing a relationship.  And that is why I thank God we have the example of Peter.  When I look at his mistakes, it helps to put my mistakes in perspective.  Thank you Peter!

In today’s gospel Jesus is saying, yet again something very difficult to accept.  It’s difficult to understand.  Peter is listening to Jesus say, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  “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.”

If we didn’t know the end of the story, these words of Jesus would sound mighty strange indeed.   The miracle worker, who speaks with authority, is saying that he will be rejected and suffer?  That doesn’t seem to compute.

Jesus’ words were competing with Peter’s hope for an earthly king to restore Israel.  Like many Israelites, Peter hoped for someone to lead the people away from foreign occupation, to usher in prosperity and peace.

Peter was familiar with scripture, particularly today’s lectionary readings.  Did not the scripture say that God promised Abraham and Sarah that they “shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

The bible is full of expectations about the Messiah.  It was thought that with the Messiah:

The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11-17).  Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand (Isaiah 11:4).  Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9).  He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10).  The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55).

This scripture doesn’t fit too well with what Jesus is saying about the Son of Man suffering, being rejected by the elders and ultimately being killed.

So Peter takes Jesus aside and says something like this to him, “Your message of love, all those miracles you’ve been doing, these are real good things.  But all this bit about suffering, being rejected, being killed…I don’t think that’s quite how this campaign should go.  I don’t think it’s going to sit well with our focus groups.  And all that part about us laying down our lives…Let’s stand back and rethink this one a little bit.”

What’s Jesus’ response?  What does Jesus say?  Get behind me satan!  I can’t imagine a more difficult thing to hear for Peter.  I’ve been rebuked by a good number of people.  Sometimes in error, sometimes for a real blooper I made.  And sometimes I have been rebuked by people who I deeply love.  But to be told by The Lord that I am satan, that would be a tough one.  Being called a jerk or a coward, now that’s hard.  But The Lord called Peter his adversary.

I think Peter had the best of intentions.  Jesus’ teaching was pretty hard to swallow.  How hard it must have been for him to understand what Jesus was telling them.  In Acts 8, the Ethiopian treasurer is reading the same scripture that Jesus refers to here in the gospel of Mark.  The Ethiopian treasurer was reading Isaiah 53, and utterly confused by it.  Only through Philip’s help could he make sense of it.

Isaiah 53 reads:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away.

    Who could have imagined his future?

For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.  When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;

To a reasonable person, and to the Ethiopian treasurer, this scripture doesn’t seem to make any sense.  But looking at it in hindsight, God is it beautiful.

It says, “therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death”

That can only be said of one king, not the earthly king that Peter and Israel had been expecting, but the heavenly king, the king that had conquered death.

Sometimes life does not match at all our hopes or expectations, just like Jesus was not matching Peter’s hopes and expectations of the Messiah. Our assumptions often do not match with reality.  Life gets difficult.  It gets confusing.  It doesn’t follow a straight trajectory.  Suffering, conflict, difficulty and trauma are not rare but quite common in life.

There are two points where I find today’s scripture a powerful witness for our lives.  The first point is on trauma and mental health.

The National Center for PTSD reports that, “going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives.”  That trauma can lead to real difficulties, like depression, anxiety, and stress.

In a national survey done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), they found “that 45.9 million American adults aged 18 or older, or 20 percent of this age group, experienced mental illness in the past year.”  This number they found was not a static number, but a revolving number.  Of the 20 percent of the population suffering from depression or anxiety or other mental health problems, they found that it was 20 percent of the population at any one time.

It has been said that, “those who suffer mental illness are like ourselves, only more so.”

I imagine it must have been traumatic for Peter to have heard Jesus call him satan.  I can remember when I’ve had a boss question a particular project I’ve worked on to encourage me to do better.  I’ve had a loved one call me out about my actions.  Likely we all have.  These experiences can sometimes be traumatic, leaving us scarred by real anxiety or stress.  On the point of trauma and mental health, this example of Peter’s mistake with Jesus helps put my own life mistakes into context.  When I look at my mistakes and think about the anxiety and stress they might seem to invoke, I like to look at Peter as an example.  Peter made a real mistake with Jesus.  Can you imagine being called satan by our Lord?  If I try to imagine it, I think how much smaller my mistakes seem in comparison with Peter’s mistake.  If Peter could be forgiven from that, most certainly so could I be forgiven for what I have done.  When Christ presents himself to the apostles in the gospel of John, he offers Peter three opportunities to express his love for him.  Having denied him the three times during the trial and crucifixion, Peter was shown the forgiveness to bring him back into relationship.

The second point where this scripture inspires me is about leadership.  When we put ourselves in places of leadership, we generally assume more responsibility.  We accomplish more projects.  Say if we have taken on twenty projects.  If we’ve taken on leadership with twenty projects, there is a good chance that one of those projects we’re going to let it flop.  It’s not going to turn out as we hoped.  But this is another time where I like to look at this example of Peter.  If Peter, who kept working to be a disciple, a minister and an apostle of God’s word could keep going even after this mistake, of being called satan by our Lord, there’s no reason I can’t keep going after I’ve made a mistake.  To keep going even after I’ve failed even miserably.

After some real failures, Peter kept going and going.  He kept going all the way to the end.  By tradition it is believed that Peter was crucified.  It is believe though that he felt unworthy to be crucified as our Lord so requested to be crucified upside down.  This was a far cry and very different request than when he took The Lord aside and rebuked him in today’s gospel reading.

So what kind of life did Peter leave us with?  What kind of example?  What beautiful words he left us with, reminding us of who we are.  In 1 Peter 2:9, he reminds us that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

If God could forgive Peter and use him, and give him such beautiful words, what more can God give to us?

Amen.