Friday, August 29, 2008

Saints and Sinners at the Same Time (A Look at the Gospel Lesson for Sunday, August 31)

[Most weeks, I try to publish at least one post dealing with the appointed Bible lessons for the upcoming Sunday. My hope is that I can at least help the people of the parish I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to prepare for worship. Others may find these explorations helpful because we use the same Bible lessons used by most other North American Christians each Sunday. For information on the Church Year and the plan of lessons called the lectionary, see here.]

The Bible Lessons for This Sunday (The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost):
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Prayer of the Day:
O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

1. This Sunday, I plan to preach on the demanding Gospel lesson from Matthew. I'll only be commenting here on that text.

2. As I've mentioned several times on the blog in the past week (see here and here), last week's Gospel lesson, Matthew 16: 13-20 was the climax and culmination of a section of Matthew's Gospel, starting at Matthew 11:2-6, in which the prime issue was the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Is He the long-promised Messiah? And, an ancillary question the section asks is, can Jesus, Who, as John the Baptist noted, didn't fit the usual profile of Messiah as a military conqueror who would bring economic prosperity, be God's Messiah? These are the questions dealt with in that portion of Matthew's narrative.

Peter, in last week's Gospel lesson, confessed Jesus as Messiah and, saying that such a confession could only have come from God, commends Peter for his confession. (Paul talks about how God goes about creating faith within us here.)

Actually, as you probably know, Peter wasn't the apostle's real name. He was Simon and Jesus gave him the designation of Peter, meaning Rock, as a sort of reminding memorial, telling him and us that it's the confession of Jesus as Messiah that is the foundation stone of Christ's Church. In making his confession, Peter was acting as a stand-in for all of us who confess faith in Jesus Christ. All who confess Jesus as Messiah are Petros, Peter. Appreciating this context is essential for understanding this Sunday's Bible lesson, which falls immediately after the incident in which Jesus gives Simon his new name.

3. At the very end of the Gospel lesson from last week, Matthew says, that Jesus "sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."

The beginning of our text gives a hint as to why Jesus was so emphatic on this point. "From that time on," v. 21 says, "Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

As mentioned, the widespread assumption of Jesus' day was that the Messiah would be a military commander, a forceful king who would kill and exact vengeance from the enemies of God's people, a leader who would bring back the days of wealth, power, and ease that Israel experienced under Solomon.

Now, implicitly picking up on prophecies of a Messiah who would be a suffering servant, mentioned in a large section of Isaiah, Jesus said that He was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem, turning conventional expectations on their head.

Peter's reaction shows why Jesus gave the orders he earlier gave. Until we understand that the Messiah hasn't come with promises of giving us ease, power, wealth, or convenience in this world, we will be following Jesus for the wrong reasons.

Until we understand that Jesus hasn't come to exact revenge on our enemies, but calls us to love and be reconciled with them, we will be following Jesus for the wrong reasons.

Since Peter and the disciples (or anybody else) could not have possibly understood this until after the events Jesus says will unfold in Jerusalem, people who try following Him before He goes to His cross will get the wrong ideas about Jesus. (This is exactly the problem with the Palm Sunday crowd, who hailed Jesus as King, not knowing what kind of king Jesus meant to be.)

4. In our Gospel lesson, Peter demonstrates that he doesn't "get it." He's appalled by Jesus saying that He's going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. (It's interesting that Peter seems not to have heard Jesus say that He's also going to rise.)

Whether Peter's reaction comes from love and loyalty for Jesus, from fear that his dreams for his people are threatened by Jesus' prediction, or a combination of both, Peter's reaction is immediate and forceful. In v.22, Peter says, "God forbid it, Lord! This will never happen to you."

Peter thinks that he's being supportive and encouraging to Jesus. He claims to see a different future for Jesus, one born of wishful thinking, it should be said. In this, Peter is guilty of that false optimism which the world often mistakenly takes for the real thing. What passes for optimism in our world often is offered up as a way of being supportive and encouraging to people. But optimism that isn't rooted in reality isn't helpful or truthful and, according to Jesus, is downright evil.

That's why the guy Jesus has just named Peter, the Rock, gets a new nickname from Jesus: Satan!

The name Satan means, variously, accuser and wanderer. Satan, the devil roams the earth like a ravenous lion, Peter says in a letter written decades after this encounter with Jesus, seeking who he will devour. The Bible often portrays Satan or the devil as one who sows confusion, in contrast to the order and peace that belongs to those who follow God.

In using this less-than-complimentary name for Peter, Jesus is accusing Peter of setting his mind on human things--short-term gain--and not divine things, things that last for eternity.

5. Rock Peter, commended for his God-wrought confession of Jesus as Messiah, and Satan, wanting to prevent the Messiah from fulfilling His mission? Can Peter be both?

Yes, all who confess Jesus are both. We live in a lifelong battle to live up to the good name--child of God--Christ gives us at our Baptism. We are "saint and sinner simultaneously," as Luther famously said.

6. Vv. 24-26 show us another reason that Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah back in v. 20. The cross, which he bore for our sins, will demonstrate to all who pay attention that following Jesus will not be easy. Grace, forgiveness, joy, and eternal life come as free gifts to all who repent and follow Jesus. The cross demonstrates that we have sins and that we are sinners. It was our sin that put the sinless Jesus on His cross. Taking up our cross must mean, in part, wrestling with the reality of our sin.

For example, for the alcoholic and drug addict, it will mean giving up their addiction and throwing themselves in God's hands every day.

For the adulterer, the sex addict, or the person who misuses the gift of sexuality in other ways, it will mean turning away from their behaviors and seeking God's help to live God's way each day.

For the perpetrator of injustice or the greedy or all we other sinners, it too will mean renunciation and surrender.

The old self must die in daily repentance and renewal.

7. I personally believe that vv.27-28 refer to the Transfiguration, which happens in Matthew 17:1-8. There, as Jesus foretold, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus coming in His kingdom.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

Thank you for visiting my blog recently. Appreciated your great comment.

Taking up the cross is dying to self and living through the grace of Christ our Savior and HIS power. His grace accomplishes all that we could not in our flesh.

God's blessings on you and yours,