THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – August 28, 2011

Jeremiah 20:7-9

Romans 12:1-2

Matthew 16:21-27

How you hear the words will determine the shade of meaning.  You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.  The dictionary says that a dupe is one who is easily deceived or cheated; in other words, a fool.  So, to be duped is to be made a fool of.  Was Jeremiah raging with fist raised to the heavens when these words came forth from his mouth?  Was he broken hearted with tears streaming down his face as he whispered them?  Was there a wry smile accompanied by a wagging head that left Jeremiah telling God that God had really pulled a clever one on the lad when God tapped him to be a prophet?  It’s all in how you hear the words as they are proclaimed.  Regardless of how you hear them, the truth remains that for Jeremiah the die has been cast.  Even if prophesying were to cost him his life, he still must do what God called him to do.  Jeremiah is in love with God and God’s people come what may.  And he can’t be quiet about that.

Jeremiah’s feelings may mirror Peter’s in the gospel.  Remember last week’s reading?  Peter proclaimed for the other disciples that they were convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus is the Messiah of God, the anointed one God has sent into the world.  Remember the praise that Jesus lavished on Peter for his insight?  Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah…. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  It is difficult to reconcile such generous praise with the rebuke that the Rock receives a few short verses later: Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me!

What had happened?  It seems Peter has a lot to learn.  He must be disabused of some assumptions he has made.  You see, for Peter the word Messiah had rich meaning that included power and prestige in the here and now.  Peter had seen evidence of Jesus’ formidable powers.  Over 5000 had been fed when Jesus blessed, broke and distributed a few loaves of bread.  Jesus walked on the water in the midst of a storm and then, as he got into the boat, commanded the storm to be quiet and it obeyed.  No wonder Peter assumed that Jesus as Messiah would be powerful in driving the Romans out of Israel and in turn would set up a powerful Kingdom, a rich kingdom, God’s kingdom that would last for ever.  It would be the end of the Jews’ oppression.  God had promised something like that if the Jews were faithful to the Law.  That’s what Jeremiah had prophesied.  And Peter could hardly wait because when those wonders happened and the rewards started pouring in, who would be there in a position of favor to bask in the luxury?  You guessed it.  Peter.

Those dreams are dashed in today’s gospel when Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…and be killed and on the third day be raised.  What about the might and the glory?  What about Peter’s sharing the throne with a position of power?  After all, Jesus had just said that Peter was foundational to the kingdom that Jesus was bringing.  There is a word in the text whose force we might miss.  Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.  To rebuke someone is to give a complete dressing down to that person.  The word is harsh and severe in undertone.  Maybe a fist was shaken in Jesus’ face.  The words must have hissed from Peter’s lips with panic just beneath the surface.  The panic is born of Peter’s fear that he has been duped by Jesus whose first words of invitation to him had never ceased ringing in Peter’s ears: Come after me and I will make you fishers of humankind.  That’s a power position, isn’t it?

Jesus rebukes Peter in turn.  But when he tells Peter to get behind me, Satan, he is not banishing Peter, excommunicating him, as it were.  Rather, Jesus calls Peter a tempter the way Satan was when Satan argued with God in the Book of Job.  The order to get behind me is telling Peter to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and learn from what he observes over Jesus’ shoulder.  From there Peter will not see the workings of a warrior Messiah.  Peter will watch a Messiah as servant.  This Messiah will associate with all the wrong people – the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers – all those people whose conditions were interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees as signs of their being reprehensible and out of favor with God.  That was the commonly accepted assumption of the times.  Worse than that, this Messiah sees suffering and death to be at the very core of his mission.  Peter is destined to see the worst things that people can inflict on people inflicted on Jesus.  Rejection.  Crucifixion.  Death.  In those days there was nothing worse that could be imagined.  And Peter probably missed the part about rising on the Third Day.  What could that have meant, anyway?

What tone of voice do you imagine that Jesus used in the final discourse of this pericope?  We might like to hear the Gentle Jesus reassuring Peter and the other disciples.  But could it be that Jesus used a stern voice with a hint of anger in it?  It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Peter’s words had been a temptation against which Jesus had to struggle.  Jesus must shock his audience into hearing the new basic condition for discipleship.  They are going to have to do what Jesus does.  They will have to walk in Jesus footsteps and learn to imitate what they see over his shoulders.  Those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow me.  In other words, if one seeks discipleship for the good things that will follow from it, the prosperity, power, and position that will follow, that one is following the wrong Messiah.  The trappings of glory are not part of Jesus’ scenario.  It is a servant church whose foundation is Rock (Peter) that Jesus is bringing into existence.

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!  Jeremiah’s words are now on Peter’s lips.  What was true for Jeremiah is also true for Peter.  Peter may have been duped, but for him there is no turning back.  Life without Jesus would be no life at all.  He may still have a lot to learn, even the basic meaning of discipleship, but the truth emerging is that for Peter to live is Christ and to die is gain, as Paul will say later when facing his own death.

People can come to Christ from various motives and begin to walk with him on The Way.  But that walking takes time and the walking is formational.  Inevitably that walking necessitates denying self and giving up presuppositions.  That walking must be in Jesus’ footsteps with lessons learned from watching over his shoulder and from doing what Jesus does.  Those who aspire to discipleship must accept vulnerability.  Jesus’ values are not the world’s values.  It’s not about power here, but service – about serving the poorest of the poor and giving them primacy of place.  Discipleship entails gathering at the Table to give thanks to God – the word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  There, dying and rising happen as the Assembly breaks the Bread and shares the Cup and is transformed into the Body of Christ in order to be sent themselves to be broken and distributed until all the poor have been fed.  Being vulnerable, service might entail dying, too.  It did for Jesus.  It may well for those who follow him.

Don’t miss the promise.  For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to their conduct.  I think of St. Ignatius of Antioch who pled with his people not to try to dissuade him from the martyrdom, the lions’ jaws that awaited him.  He urged them to let him be ground like wheat in the lions’ jaws, an allusion to the flour from which the Eucharistic bread would be kneaded.  For Ignatius, the death of martyrdom was not defeat but victory in Christ.  So must it be for all who follow Christ.  We may not be cast to the lions.  But we may be ridiculed and abased in our service.  Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t how it is supposed to be.  Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t the lesson to be learned and taken to heart by all those who let themselves be duped by the Gospel.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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