Jeremiah 20: 7-9 + Psalm 63 + Romans 12: 1-2 + Matthew 16: 21-27
September 3, 2023 on board the MS Zaandam departing Montréal
The one who fed the multitude, who calmed the water, drove out evil spirits, and broke down social barriers by healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman is now the one who will be put to death. It doesn’t make sense. It does not match our idea of what a Savior or Messiah should do any more than it did Peter who was obviously not the only person who has struggled to understand the mind of God. He had all that power at his disposal. Why would he not use it in his own defense?
That question is the key. His power is meant for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God, not for his own comfort, safety or protection. The Gospel never says that Jesus gallantly steps forward and takes suffering upon himself. That would be a demonstration of his power. Instead, his fate will be a demonstration of his vulnerability. He will be taken forcibly and will suffer at the hands of others. He will do this willingly, but not as a volunteer. Jesus will be a victim.
It is in this behavior, in this obedience, and in this vulnerability that he teaches us about the use of power and privilege. Look at us here beginning this wonderful voyage today. We are gifted with so much, and with it comes such great responsibility and the expectation that we do not use all that we have for ourselves.
Peter thinks that because Jesus is so favored by God and so powerful he should never experience what he is told will come to pass. Again, like Peter we sometimes think that because we keep the commandments, practice our faith, say our prayers, care for others something is wrong when we suffer disappointments, tragedies, and illness. We might think like Peter that this isn’t right and start to whine like the Prophet we just heard moaning and complaining to God.
When we get caught up in that, we are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do, and today’s Gospel teases us into a new way of thinking even about faith. Oftentimes we find faith to be like a warm comforting quilt into which we can crawl up and feel safe. But sometimes faith is a call to obedience, to suffering and sacrifice. It means being vulnerable, risking love and forgiveness when it may not be returned. Denying one’s self, as Jesus demands means that we are no longer the sole and only center of our attention, but rather that we have placed the Lord Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. When that begins to happen, the Kingdom of God will be near at hand.