Lectionary Reading for August 30, 2020
Old Testament: Exodus 3.1–15
Psalm: 105.1–6, 23–26, 45
New Testament: Romans 12.9–21
Gospel: Matthew 16.21–28
We don’t want Jesus.
We want someone to make things better, someone we can rely on to come in and save the day. We want someone to help us win, to help us achieve our hopes and dreams. We want someone to come and give us victory over every discomfort, every bad day, every negative thing in our lives.
In short, we want a hero.
That’s not Jesus.
I know I’m not supposed to say things like this, but let’s be real for a moment, Jesus sometimes seems like a letdown. We have a hardship in life, we pray to Jesus to come, be real, fix the problem, yet the problem remains. Jesus doesn’t take away our pains. We still live with our fears. Black people are shot in our streets. A pandemic still interrupts our lives and threatens our well-being. Economic turmoil leaves us unsure of the future for ourselves and our loved ones. Political upheaval and corruption control the direction of our nation. In all this, the savior we want and the savior we get are two vastly different people.
We know Jesus is the savior of the world, but he’s not the savior we look for, he’s not the savior we dream of, he’s not the savior that we’re told we need.
Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed, chosen savior sent from god — indeed the very son of god — to bring salvation. For Peter and the rest of the disciples, salvation meant military might and displays of power. Being ruled by Rome were not the hopes and dreams of any Israelite. They longed for the promised Messiah, who was supposed to overthrow Rome, reestablish the Davidic monarchy, and make Israel the economic, religious, and political center they all knew it was supposed to be.
The Messiah was supposed to be a king like no other.
Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus’ response was nothing short of earth-shattering. “Blessed are you Simon son of Johan! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Jesus is saying yes. Yes, I am the Messiah. Yes, I am the anointed one. Yes, I am the son of god. Yes, I am the savior you have all hoped for, dreamt about, and longed for.
Then, Jesus flips everything on its head.
You would expect the one who has just claimed the right to the Davidic throne, to the fullness of god’s promise and blessing, to being the hope of Israel to begin to maneuver to gain power, to attract followers, to get the masses on their side. After all, if you’re going to have a revolution and a coup, you’re going to need people.
But Jesus doesn’t do that. He orders the disciples to keep quiet about the whole messiah thing. Shhh, don’t tell.
Then Jesus does something even more ludicrous: he begins to show the disciples that the Messiah — that Jesus himself — must go to Jerusalem not to solidify his political, economic, and military power, but rather to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and be killed.
Their Messiah was going to die.
This isn’t what’s supposed to happen; this isn’t how the story goes. Our Messiah doesn’t die. Our Messiah conquers. Our Messiah brings might and power. Our Messiah ensures victory and freedom. Our Messiah doesn’t die.
Yet here is Jesus, the son of the living god, the Messiah saying, “I must suffer and die and on the third day be raised.”
Peter does what any of us would do: he tries to talk some sense into Jesus.
Taking him off to the side, Peter begins, “Jesus, this can’t happen to you!” For Peter, if Jesus died, it meant the end of the revolution, the end of hope.
I can relate. When Jesus doesn’t show up the way I think he should, it’s a letdown, a loss of hope. It can even feel like a loss of faith.
But here’s the secret: it’s not Jesus who let you down.
Let me explain.
As Peter gently rebukes Jesus, Jesus has a choice to make: will he abandon the way of suffering and death, going instead the way of power and might, or will he remain faithful to the will, the plan, the hops, and dreams of god.
Jesus chooses the way of suffering, the way of god.
“Get behind me Satan!” may seem like a harsh reaction, but Jesus was making a definitive choice at that moment. The temptation before him was the same temptation the devil offered him in the wilderness before his baptism: take the easy way of power, not the way of god, which led to death.
“You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as god thinks but as human beings do.”
Jesus definitively points out that Peter might know that Jesus was the Messiah, but Peter’s concept of Messiah, the disciple’s concept of Messiah, our concept of Messiah isn’t rooted in god thinking.
See, Jesus isn’t the one who lets us down when he doesn’t show up and do what we think he should; it’s our idea of Jesus that lets us down. Our ideas of a regal, powerful, mighty god who smites our enemies and delivers to us health and prosperity. Our ideas of a national god who blesses America as some shining beacon in the world. Our ideas of a god that gives and gives and gives, never asking us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Jesus remains faithful to the way of god, the way of suffering, of humility, the way of true salvation. The way of self-sacrificial love of others.
So, we have a choice: will we admonish Jesus, telling him he mustn’t suffer, mustn’t die, mustn’t be resurrected (for there can be no resurrection without death), or will we pick up our crosses, and join him on the way towards the death of self, and the resurrection in the fullness of love?
See, the way of suffering isn’t about some self-flagellation or masochistic infliction of pain. It is about identifying with the oppressed, those on whom injustice preys upon, the outcast and marginalized. We enter suffering, sitting in solidarity, just as Jesus’ incarnation solidifies him as one of us, as equal with his siblings.
The way of suffering is the way of love because our dying to self and living to Christ leads us to the resurrection, the life abundant, to salvation. And that invitation is open to all. We all are welcomed into the death of Christ in our baptism, and in that same baptism, we are born again, raised from the waters of death into our life hidden in Jesus.
So, do good. Overcome evil with good. This is the way of the cross, laying down our rights, our self-justifying practices, and choosing to love as we have been loved.
This is the way.
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Originally published at https://culturalsavage.com on September 2, 2020.