“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:26)
In last week’s gospel reading from the RCL (Matthew 16:13-20) he was certainly the Man. He was the hero who got the revelation from God about who Jesus is—“the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (v. 16). Jesus lavished some pretty cool praise on him for getting that one on the nose, but in this week’s gospel lesson (Matt. 16:21-28) Jesus is chewing Peter’s butt for misinterpreting his own revelation. Peter just doesn’t get this whole suffering servant thing. I can’t say that I blame him. It’s not an obvious concept to most people these days either.
Back up in verse 20 Jesus orders the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah. Why he’s keeping it a secret is any Bible reader’s guess, but I’m thinking the most obvious reason is this: folks just don’t get it.
All of the pious Jews who have such high hopes for Jesus as the Son of David are ready to put on their red “Make Israel Great Again” baseball caps and kick out those corrupt, tax-and-spend Romans and restore the glory of the long-passed Davidic Kingdom. You know—the good ol’ days when everyone felt pretty peachy about their nation. Then they can enjoy their freedoms and proudly lord it over the Canaanites and the Samaritans. To them, the Kingdom of God means power, victory over their enemies, and pride in their exclusive identity. To Jesus, however, it means love through sacrifice and humble trust in God’s righteousness, love, and goodness.
If you go into any old-fashioned Christian church—not one of these mega churches with the movie screens and the sixty piece praise bands, but an old-fashioned Protestant or Catholic church—you won’t see the image of a victorious general on horseback or a picture of the guy who just hit the Powerball. Pride, victory, wealth, and acclamation are not places where we find God. You’ll see instead the image of a man dying on a cross, because the true love and fullness of God only comes to us when we have put aside all of our human vanities and desires.
Now, as someone not living in an occupied nation, I don’t see that there’s anything particularly wrong with freedom or pride of identity. These things become particularly valuable when they’ve been taken away from you. But before they can bring you joy, you’re first going to have to find yourself in helpless dependence on the love of and mercy of God. Peter and the others might’ve been willing to die so that their people would triumph, yet what good is victory without love?
What does “triumph” mean to you? Recognition? More money? A more prominent job or place in society? The gratitude of your kids or their success? A Phillies World Series Pennant (Good luck with that last one!)? If you don’t know the peace of God without those things, you won’t know God’s peace should you ever achieve what you think you desire.
I’ll say one thing for dear Simon Peter in this gospel story—he sure does love Jesus and he wants to protect him (v. 23). Later, he’ll even promise to stand by Jesus until death (Matt. 26:35, although we know he didn’t make good on that promise!). I’m not so sure, however, that Jesus really needs our protection or our defense. Lots of folks get their boxers wedged up their cracks these days because of the increasing secularization of our society. They’re pretty miffed because saying “Merry Christmas” may not be politically correct, or because there isn’t prayer in public school, or because we can’t send Bibles to our troops serving in Muslim countries. Personally, I don’t see any of this as a threat to Jesus. Jesus endured being stripped naked, publically beaten to a pulp, and nailed to a cross. He was openly ridiculed as he hung there to die.
And yet he rose and lives in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t need us to protect or defend him. Jesus wants us to listen, love, serve, and obey him. He wants us to give up our cultural vanity so we can be free to experience the joy of his love for us, and find that love by serving others.
God bless you, my friends. Thanks again for reading.
P.S. I don’t think there’s a lot of partisan politics or denominational wrangling going on in Houston, Texas right now. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by Tropical Storm Harvey, and things that might’ve seemed really important a week ago don’t seem to matter today. Today we look to Jesus on the cross giving himself away for people he has never physically met, and asking us to do a little giving of our own. Here’s how:
The Gulf Coast Synod Disaster Fund will be used for helping congregations and their people get back on their feet so they can serve their neighborhoods.
· Give online at https://gulfcoastsynod.org/about/donate/. Click the donate button and give to “Hurricane Harvey.”
· Mail your donation to: Gulf Coast Synod Disaster Fund / 12941 North Freeway, Suite 210 / Houston, Texas 77060 (Memo: Hurricane Harvey)
Lutheran Disaster Response is a highly reputable ELCA organization that supports case management primarily, through local providers like Lutheran Social Services. They give by need and not by creed. Learn more about giving to LDR at http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/