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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

“Get Behind Me, Satan!”

“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!,’ he said.  ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)

The bumper sticker at the interminably long red light in front of me this morning, as I was driving the kids to school read:  “I get along fine with God.  It’s his fan club that I can’t stand.”

Jesus will have to suffer and die? "N'yuk, n'yuk, n'yuk."

Peter was one of Jesus’ biggest fans.  As a regular guy who dropped everything to follow Jesus with almost reckless abandon, he was always stepping into scenes with the bold, swaggering faith of an idealistic convert, only to get it wrong- but in a winning way that actually makes him the likeable leader of the bunch, a bit like Moe in the old comedy, “The Three Stooges.”

There is the time that Peter tries to walk on water, only to fall flat on his face.  Or, the resolute declaration that he will never forsake his Lord, followed by not one but three denials that he even knows Jesus.  Or, the episode in the Garden of Gethsemane, when in Chuck Norris fashion Peter pulls out his sword to protect Jesus from arrest, only to be told like an over-eager boy playing cops and robbers to put his weapon away.

Peter is likeable.  He is also, in the end, loyal until death.  Jesus’ prophetic reference to Peter as “the rock” on which Jesus will build His church and against which the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:13-20), while saturated with humor in light of Peter’s frequent blundering, does indeed come true.  Peter goes on to found the church in Jerusalem and Antioch, write several epistles (two of which were canonized in the form of 1 and 2 Peter), and, like Jesus, suffer death by crucifixion.  Peter’s life hardly resembles the way in which, most of us modern-day Christians “gallop with due moderation to martyrdom,” as the nineteenth century thinker Léon Bloy, quoted by Gustav Thibon in the foreword to theologian Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, put it.

So why, then, this harsh rebuke?  Even Satan, “the Accuser” himself, receives kinder words for tempting Jesus in the wilderness.  What is it about Peter’s “scolding” of Jesus (v.32), only moments following his declaration that Jesus is the Christ, that elicits this dramatic response?

Here Weil lends insight:  “To say to Christ as Saint Peter did: ‘I will always be faithful to thee,’ is to deny him already, for it is to suppose that the source of fidelity is in ourselves and not in grace,” she writes in Gravity and Grace.

In other words, any time we locate the source of God’s goodness in ourselves, any time we try to direct or re-direct God’s course of redemption, any time we find ourselves defending God and who we think our God should be, we are rejecting God’s grace and denying our need for a Savior. Even when we do these things with the best of intentions, we are still claiming our self and our own merits in place of the cross.  We are seeking to bring in God’s kingdom by force on our own terms.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and a death by crucifixion when this exchange took place. He would have been well aware of the hard necessity of the sacrifice before him.  A sacrifice for the sins of the world, we learn later (John 1:29).  And it is precisely in and through this costly self-giving, this total humiliation on a cross by which God is “one with us” in the anguish and suffering of the human condition, that God’s greatness and glory shine brightest.  Karl Barth is right when he locates God’s ultimate glorification in this scandalous act on the cross.

Peter could not understand these “things of God” quite yet.  Later he would.  But, Jesus knew:  in the preceding verses he “spoke plainly” about how “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and killed and after three days rise again” (vv.31,32).

Maybe, then, in this outburst to a clueless friend, we find Jesus reconsidering for one quavering moment whether things really had to go this way.  Maybe we find him toying with the possibility of trading in his fate for something far less glorious but a whole lot easier.  Maybe the Son of Man would not have to suffer or die on a cross, after all…

I am so grateful He did.

Got any insights or suggestions for weird Jesus sayings?  I want to hear them.  Leave your comments below.   Tune in for the next weird Jesus saying: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…”

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