Following Jesus

Matthew 16:21-28
From that time on, 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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 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? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (NRSV)

Oh Peter! You are so hard to train. Jesus has been teaching about a whole new world, but you still want to live in the old one. Jesus has fed thousands with just a few morsels of food. Do you not think that signifies an alternate reality where everyone has what they need? That is not the way of the competitive society in which you grew up. In the world you are used to, there is good and bad, scarcity and plenty, power and weakness. But Jesus has been demonstrating something different. Wholeness, completeness, love, acceptance and peace are not beyond us when we follow Jesus’ way. You keep seeming to think that Jesus’ new way will fit into the old way.

But no. Just no.

Jesus’ way is a whole different way. And don’t think the human side of Jesus wasn’t tempted to try to fit in to the world’s way. It is VERY tempting to answer violence with violence, hate with hate… to try to ‘one-up” those who oppose you by playing their game. It is the very human struggle we all have. Peter was tempting Jesus by challenging him as he spoke about the consequences of taking on the earthly powers. But Jesus knew already that his new way of doing things was a threat to those who are invested in the old way. The ones who have gained by having the upper hand in a competitive system will not give it up lightly. They will do whatever they have to do to keep the upper hand.

Jesus also knows that to break that system he cannot use any of its tactics.

He will not fight back.
He will not muster forces.
He will not give in to the way of retaliation.

No. Jesus will rise above.

But first he has to resist the temptation to do the human thing. And Peter isn’t helping. Jesus calls him a “Satan.” I capitalize it because that is the custom. That is the way it is translated; as a proper name. In Hebrew it is not. In Hebrew it simply means “the tempter.” Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, you tempter!”

Jesus calls his disciples by saying ‘Follow me.” If someone is going to follow Jesus, they must be behind him. Maybe Jesus is telling Peter to ‘get in line.’ Maybe Jesus is reminding Peter to not get out ahead of him, but to truly follow. Peter, the rock, can only be a stumbling block when he gets ahead of Jesus. Peter, the impulsive one, would have the tendency to get off track. ‘Unauthorized use of initiative’ is what we call it at our house.

We desperately want to fit in, but to what? Matthew writes: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Matthew 16:24b-26, NRSV) Do we want to fit into the Kingdom of God of which Jesus teaches? Then we have to let go of the dualism of the competitive system in which we live, take up the cross—the way the world is quite sure is certain death, spiritually or physically—but in God’s reign is life. We have to let go of the desire to win, to ‘one-up,’ to put down. We have to practice this in life. It takes discipline and determination, because there is always a tempter close by.

It seems like too much to risk to get behind Jesus and follow him all the way to the cross. But that is just the thing. When we do, we find we get it all in the resurrection. Jesus lives. And so do we. And so do we all.

blessings to you,
Pastor Karla

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Published by: Pastor Karla

I am a pastor and a retired Navy Chaplain who believes following Jesus in compassion, service and gratitude is the very best kind of doctrine. God is present in the world in the Spirit and in the church as the body of Christ. I am a One on the enneagram who lives to find the balance between having my 'to do list' all crossed off at the end of the day and being spontaneous in the moment. Biblical literacy is important to me, and I want to make the meaning of the Bible and its stories less of a mystery to the average person so the love of God comes through to them clearly. You can contact me at karla.seyb.stockton@me.com. blessings to you, Pastor Karla

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