Matt 16:21-28 CEB
21 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." 23 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." 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 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? 27 "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. 28 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."
For the most part, change is not something humanity is comfortable with. Stability can give the misconception of safety even if safety doesn't really exist. Because, see, whether we want it or not, change exists and is inevitable. The only true stability that actually exists is the ever sure presence of God. Any other stability is only an illusion created by the natural order of the world. The reason we naturally fear change is not because of what change may bring but what it may leave behind. Change is a form of death.
Death of a long held idea.
Death of one of the many stages of life.
Death of a place once called home.
To move on to something new we have to let go of something else. Just like any death we are allowed to grieve and mourn what is lost. I grieved many things taken by change in my lifetime. It is a natural process.
Because change involves a death of something in our life it also usually leads to a common reaction: anxiety. Anxiety rears its ugly head when death is a topic. Much like the ever sure presence of God, death sticks around. We try our hardest to avoid the topic and ultimately it makes us anxious.* Now anxiety is really a form of fear. When we fear something we have no control over or don’t know how to overcome it takes the form of anxiety. Even though anxious people are fearful they often show their anxiety in anger. Probably because anger gives the illusion of power. Do you want to know where deception, sin, and Satan live? In anxiety. In anxiety because anxiety is built on unsure footing; the footing of believing stability comes from the natural order and not from God’s order. Peter was anxious.
His anxiety probably centered on his preconceptions of the term Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word for ‘anointed one.’ The Greek version of the word is ‘Christos’ or ‘Christ.’ Yes, Messiah and Christ have the same root definition. When the term was first used it was a term and not a title or a name. When kings first entered the Israelite story messiah was used for them because they were the anointed leaders from God. Years later, when kings were no longer around messiah was used towards priests. But something else happened to the term. Between end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament people began to talk about Messiah not as a term but as a person. They began to say that the Messiah was going to bring back the line of kings and rule the Israelite people. They began to say that the Messiah would be God’s anointed choice to lead. Most importantly, they began to say the Messiah could not be killed. For Peter, it was correct and right to call Jesus the Messiah but his beliefs on what that meant was different than the truth.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just around the corner.” In other words, our understandings unfortunately tend to include the worst of us. We shouldn’t be looking for perfection in worldly things because we can’t create a perfect anything. When we put our hopes and goals on things or ideas instead of God we are asking fear to enter the picture and fear can lead to anxiety. Anxiety is what we want to stay away from. Yes, it is hard to change. There is so much in life that changes we don’t want to let go of the few things that appear to remain the same. Sometimes the things we cling to most earnestly are perceptions and ideas. Peter correctly perceived that Jesus was the Messiah but his idea of what that meant was wrong. When Jesus told the disciples he had to die because of what he was, it made Peter anxious and he acted impulsively. Instead of understanding what God’s plans were he reverted to the human plan. The human plan was, Christ could not, would not, die. Because anxiety drove those words, Satan lived in Peter’s response to Jesus. Yes, the rock that would be the foundation to a new church could be corrupted. And we all know, if Peter can be corrupted so can we.
“Get behind me, Satan.” In English it sounds like such a harsh reaction to Peter’s anxiety. By itself it really sounds as if the phrase adds more fear and anxiety. So, why would Jesus respond like that? Why would Jesus buy into Peter’s fears? Because he isn’t. The real truth is in the Greek. Something is lost in translation when we read the words in English. That phrase, “Get behind me, Satan,” calls back memories of two prior experiences. The first is a reminder. The “behind me” part of the phrase is nearly identical to the call Jesus first gave to the Disciples when they first met, “Follow me.” The first problem was Peter was not following Jesus but following popular ideas. He had to change his idea of what the Messiah was. Ah, there is that change word again, and Peter was not ready to deal with it. Also, the truth was the Disciples were going to follow right behind Jesus. Most of them would eventually be able to perform miracles in Jesus’ name and follow Jesus to their own cross. The human path feels good and appears to end well. Jesus’ path requires sacrifice and is difficult.
Second, the “get Satan” is nearly identical to when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and Jesus told Satan to go away. Do you think that temptation ended for Jesus when he finished his 40 days in the wilderness? Nope. Think of what kind of temptation rested in Peter’s words. When you know that your life is going to end the way Jesus’ did, hearing that death could be cheated had to have been alluring. Ah, back to C.S. Lewis, “When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just around the corner.” One of the biggest dangers of our anxiety is not what it does to us but what it does to others. One anxious person can keep an entire group of people from following God’s call. That was the power of Peter’s words. The “behind me” was for Peter, the “get Satan” was for Jesus. Even from the foundation of the church, Peter, temptation exists in the form of anxiety.
When we accept Jesus’ call we all become rock, solid and sure. After that, we determine what kind of rock we will be. Are we going follow behind Christ and trust when God leads us down a road that will help us deal with the inevitable change? In that case we will be a foundation for future generations. Or, are we going to allow the fear to make us stagnant and turn our thoughts towards anxiety? In that case we have allowed Satan into our lives and we become stumbling blocks. Are we foundations or something that just gets in the way? That is our choice. Peter ultimately chose to give up his anxiety and follow Christ. He chose to be a foundation. Yes, that path was difficult and required sacrifice but it was ultimately the most rewarding.
*This meditation was discussion general anxiety and fear. I am not a trained medical professional and cannot speak, and did not, speak of clinical depression. Clinical depression is more than a choice, it's a brain chemistry. There are some very wonderful people who follow Christ and suffer from clinical depression. My heart and prayers go out to these warriors of the faith.
Matthew 16:13-20 CEB Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.
I wonder if Jesus ever had an ethic of self-care while on earth. If given a choice between helping others or himself he always appeared to choose others. Yet, at times when he was helping others he really was searching for some alone time- from the feeding of the 5,000+ to the Canaanite woman he wasn't looking to help anyone but himself, but he ended up forgoing his own needs for the needs of those around him. Even when he just wants to take a relaxing walk across a lake, his disciples stop him because they are afraid. Never does he stop these people and tell them to come back at a better time. He never gripes about what he wanted to do while healing or teaching. This is not a 9-5 Lord and Savior. Even when he thinks he might be off the clock something happens where he simply clocks back in. I have a friend who is an ordained minister and licensed therapist. If there was one thing he pushes on any leader in the church it is self-care. If a leader is not mentally and physically healthy they can do more hindrance to a group than help. I guarantee you, if he was one of Jesus’ disciples he would constantly be telling Jesus to sit and renew. So, I would guess this friend would really love today’s scripture.
In chapter 16 it appears Jesus finally gets the chance to practice self-care. There is space to pause and reflect; possibly pray. It is out of this reflection Jesus asks a very interesting question to the disciples: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? It is interesting because most people assume what he is really asking is, “Do people think I am the Son of Man?” Ah, but that is not what Jesus asked, is it? It is easy to hear the title ‘Son of Man’ and assume it always goes with Jesus. (By the way, a more fitting translation is "Human One.") Judging by the disciples answers there were many views on who or what the Human One was. This was not to gauge how the disciples felt but the overall perception of everyone else, and everyone else was thinking the Son of Man was someone great but deceased. (John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet.) If the disciples got the people’s perceptions right the idea the people had was wrong.
So Jesus first asks about outsider knowledge regarding a term, but follows it up with insider knowledge about him. In other words, his initial question is followed by asking the disciples directly, who do you say that I am? (You know, maybe this is why he always went by himself to pray. He knew he couldn’t stop asking questions if he wasn’t alone. Jesus really comes across as a type A personality sometimes. You see it when others are around and he is in a renewal and prayer mode. Those with him have to be a part of it too.)Now, Peter is always the one who is willing to participate in whatever Jesus is doing. He is that kid in the back of the classroom who joyfully raises his or her hand no matter what the question. You can almost hear him whispering, “Me, me, me. Pick me.” You wonder if he raised his hand any higher if it dislocate. If the disciples were in a classroom with Jesus as their teacher, would Peter get the title, ‘Teacher’s Pet?’ Either way, at least Peter understands what the people are failing to see- the Human One and the Messiah are one in the same, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.
Yeah, I think Jesus had an ethic of self-care but his need to teach and heal could never be quelled when others were present. That is probably why he went alone on mountains to pray. He just couldn’t do it in the presence of others. In this case, thank goodness because from his type A behavior comes some A+ scripture.
The dialogue that follows between Peter and Jesus reminds me of last week’s scripture, the part where Jesus was talking about the power of words. To sum it up, we have to be careful with our words because words come from the heart. Words can be dangerous. They are dangerous because they speak of our personal truth. What do I mean by that? Well, using myself as an example: who I am, Melissa Renee Fain, can eventually be pieced together using my words. In my case, by using my meditations. What I say speaks of who I am. The people, those who were not in Jesus’ inner circle, did not know the truth so their words showed their ignorance. Ignorance was their truth. Simon Peter, within Jesus’ inner circle, stated what was in his heart and spoke from his truth. What Simon Peter believed in his heart to be true was in fact the real truth: Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God. Does that make sense? It’s like this: there was a time that everyone knew the earth was flat. In the heart of the majority the truth was found in the flatness of the earth. Now the real truth would eventually show that the earth was round. The difference is the perceptions and beliefs we hold “true” in our hearts verses the actuality that simply exists. There were people who believed in their hearts that John the Baptist was the Human One when the actual truth was right in front of their face. See, you can be told one thing and still make the decision not to place that knowledge in your heart as ‘truth.’ I could run down the street telling everyone that I am Joan of Arc, but just because I say it, doesn’t mean the people looking at me are going to believe what I say.
Simon Peter believed what Jesus had done and said and therefore knew the truth. His truth was the actuality. He knew Jesus was not just trying to act silly, pull off a magic trick, or pretend to be something he wasn’t. He knew Jesus was the Messiah. This understanding did not come through words or actions but through his heart. That is where God really talks to us. I reference my Joan of Arc comment. I mean, seriously, none of you would think I was really Joan of Arc just because I told you so. You would know in your heart who I really was. A heart centered on God is the litmus test to all those words out in the world. A heart centered on God is what can allow us to really speak the truth. It is what turns us from sand into rocks. It is what makes us firm foundations for future generations. Peter was not born Peter, but Simon. Peter wasn’t even a standard name for the time period. It is Greek for rock. Jesus renamed Simon, Peter. Simon became a rock because his heart was true so he was able to speak the truth.
We can be rocks too. We too can know the truth and speak it. We just have to do something that is so incredibly out there people might just think we are crazy. We need to fully rely on God. I know, insane, isn’t it? We just need to use Jesus as our road map. He lived a God filled life and people saw, from their hearts, who he really was. His time on earth began the process to change the world. Our words will either hurt or help that process, because our words will reflect what is truly in our hearts.
So what can I leave you with? How are you going to work out my meditation? How are you going to speak truthfully from your heart? Well, that part is for you to figure out. May I suggest you start by figuring out which truth you are listening to. Find the truth that seeks unification of the Body of Christ. Find the truth that speaks from the heart.
Matthew 15:21-28 CEB
From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” But he didn't respond to her at all.
His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”
Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”
He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”
Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.
Let’s for a moment allow ourselves some bold honesty about who this woman in our scripture was. First, she was not an Israelite. Her cultural standing had social implications. She was a Gentile and considered lower than the Israelite. Not going any further, this meant she had no right to speak to Jesus so boldly. Second, she was a woman. The people during the time of the New Testament thought feminine outspokenness should be shunned and quelled. A woman’s place was behind her husband, not in the streets yelling. With that combination of culture and gender, she could have believed her goal was destined for failure. Instead, her faith kept her going. Instead, she kept trying. Even when others openly ignored what she was saying she pushed forward.
It is easy to say what you believe when you are in the majority. In the majority you are usually not sharing anything new, but simply being open to agreeable points others make. In the majority you feel more comfortable sharing a disagreeable opinion because your status among your peers is more secure. This woman was not in the majority. It's when you are the outcast and the downtrodden your true nature seems to show itself. It is when no one stands with you that you make those difficult decisions to even stand for anything. This woman stood for two things: her daughter, and the belief that Jesus was God incarnate come to save everyone. Even when Jesus openly told the disciples his ministry was only to the Israelites she persisted. Even when Jesus called the woman a dog she persisted. She knew what she was going to stand for and she was not going to back down.
Jesus’ reaction to the whole debacle reminds me of the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Throughout the movie Wonka acted cold and heartless to the kids. He seemed ambivalent when one would nearly drown in chocolate or shrink himself with a TV ray. He did not come across as the Wonka everyone remembered who just wanted to make children happy. No one in the group liked the man except one of the kids, Charlie Bucket. Somehow he saw past what Wonka was pretending to be and had faith in who he really was. At the end of the movie Charlie holds an Everlasting Gobstopper, if he keeps it he might be able to sell it to a competitor and get big money. Yet, even as cold and heartless and Wonka appeared throughout the entire movie, Charlie still believed in him. In a moment of compassion, he hands over the Gobstopper. That is when he finds out the whole thing was set up to find someone who was innocent and sincere enough to take over the Chocolate Factory. By turning in the Gobstopper, Charlie passed the test and became Wonka’s heir.
We might get the hint that the same thing might be going on with our scripture. Before Jesus and the Disciples head to Tyre and Sidon he gives a scathing dialogue on words. Using the Pharisee’s as direct examples he says it is not what goes into the mouth one should worry about, (i.e. food.) What one should worry about is what comes out of the mouth, (i.e. words.) Words show us for who we really are because they come from the heart. Basically, what is coming from the Pharisee’s hearts are foul and not worth listening to.
I personally don’t think the Disciples got it the first time around. I mean, after all, this is a group of people who needs an illustration or a parable to explain pretty much everything Jesus is saying. Now I am speculating, but perhaps the disciples are wary to put down the Jewish religious leadership so quickly. Perhaps they needed to see firsthand how the Pharisee’s words corrupt. The woman and Jesus become a living parable. Jesus takes the part of the Pharisee. (The Pharisee’s focus is on those who are the select children of Israel, not of Gentile women.) Jesus plays the part perfectly. To the Disciples, they were probably happy Jesus appeared to be scolding this “nuisance.” To the woman, she saw beyond his actions and had faith in what was in his heart. She could have left at any time, taking what Jesus was doing as a sign that God’s love was not for her. She wouldn’t have earned anything from succumbing to the words Jesus and the Disciples were saying. Instead she persists and speaks from the heart. Think of the damage that could have been done to this woman and her child if it had actually been a Pharisee saying those words. Instead, Jesus' true nature becomes apparent, and this woman is accepted as an heir to the Kingdom.
Whether we are talking about Charlie Bucket, or the woman in our scripture we need to be wary, of what comes out of our mouth. We separate ourselves by unfriending and cutting off those who don't share our opinions. We create our own pockets of acceptance. Within our opinionated majority it is easy to exclude others without even realizing we are doing it. Our heart can be a dangerous weapon bringing evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander into the world. If we allow Jesus into our hearts that weapon can be turned around and used to save the world. Charlie inherited a chocolate factory and the dream of a man who wanted to make children happy. And the woman: The woman inherited nothing that she didn’t already have. Her heart was pure and because she persisted in her faith her daughter was cured. She always had God’s love and her determination proved it. She had inherited the Kingdom before she ever had the opportunity to talk to Jesus.
So be careful. If your heart does not belong fully to God your words are liable to be a weapon, not a help. And, even what we don’t say speaks of what is in our hearts. Stop buying into scandal to sell a web page, and start buying into Christ to change the world.
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”
(This meditation is a preview of the upcoming bible study on the 10 Commandments. If you would like to register for this bible study, you may do so under upcoming events.)
From 7th – 12th grade I went to St. Simon's Island to participate in a regional youth assembly. Every year there was this huge billboard off of the highway which read: “Saturday is the Lord's day. Sunday is the sign of the devil.” We would always laugh as we passed it and would always read it out loud, saying the last part in the best fake scary voice we could muster. It was similar to an episode of Parks and Recreation where Ben needed to make a campaign video for Leslie Knopp and they practice saying the competitor's name. I'm sure when the billboard was put up, no one was thinking a bunch of kids from a church would be saying, “Sign of the devil” over and over again whenever they saw it. I am also fairly confident that would horrify the ones who commissioned the billboard. While I would eventually worship on Saturdays, (There was a contemporary worship at the church I was attending.) I never really considered my time with God to be dictated by a Western Calendar. Yet, the billboard got to me.
I would spend over a decade trying to understand the fourth commandment and what following it meant. My first choice was a strict prohibition on calendars that were not made by myself. Why? Because I would put Sunday as the seventh day. I was seriously zealous over it. If a teacher or leader would give me a calendar I would remake it. When I made calendars for groups (from my youth ministry days) were all Monday to Sunday. Perhaps I struggled with honoring my Mother and Father, but I was going to worship on the Sabbath!
Then my theology was put to the test. It was my birthday, and just for fun, I wanted to know on what day I was born. Come to find out, Friday. Well, if I was born on a Friday, wouldn't my seventh day really be Thursday? My faith was put the test. What was I going to do? Disciples of Christ churches are never open on Thursday, some not even Maundy Thursday. I had to go back to a traditional calendar, and was horrified when I realized Jesus didn't rise on the seventh day, but the first. Even Christ, in death, rested on Saturday.
Before I went any further, I knew what I wasn't going to do. I wasn't going to become Seventh Day Adventist and I wasn't going to become a Messianic Jew. What's a gal to do? I shelved by zealotry and moved on with my life, trusting in Christ's redeeming love.
It would only be with a seminary education under my belt would I be able to return to this commandment with a clear heart and mind.
What I take from this commandment today is not some scary billboard on the side of the road. Today I see a commandment of celebration and inclusion. The point isn't about whether I set aside Saturday, Sunday or even Thursday to remember God's awesome act of creation, it's the fact that I do it.