When I thought about today’s gospel reading, I thought that maybe since last week we heard about Jesus’ temptations in the desert, that maybe this week’s story should be called “Peter’s temptation”. As soon as Jesus starts talking about the future and how difficult it’s going to be, Peter starts to back peddle. He can’t seem to deal with what Jesus is saying to him and to the others. It’s too hard. But here’s another interesting piece I hadn’t noticed before… Jesus rebukes Peter, just as Peter has just done to Jesus… they are both harshly disapproving of each other’s actions and words; but here’s what I find interesting as well… Jesus, having just been in the desert tempted by Satan, calls Peter out, and calls him Satan. As I thought about that, I thought that perhaps that’s no accident. I actually thought that as Jesus said this to Peter, there must have been some real pain in the rebuke for him; Peter’s temptation to put aside the horrible future that awaited Jesus must have been at least a little tempting to Jesus. Calling Peter Satan brings the time in the desert into the present; all of the hunger, fear, exhaustion… and he knew that that was only a taste of what was waiting for him at the hands of the empire. How incredibly painful it must have been to realize that even though he brought a message of love, that there would be those who couldn’t accept it; that profit was worth more to them than the perfect love that God was offering. It seems to me, that in this exchange with Peter, Jesus is feeling the weight of what is in front of him, and that maybe he once again was tempted to just run away from it all. Who could blame him? If he is fully human as we are, then running away from his responsibilities would be attractive at least some of the time. I think what was so difficult for me reading it this time, was the pain and anger I imagine that he felt. I can almost hear him saying, “Peter, grow up. Can’t you see what’s at stake here? This isn’t about you… it’s about all of us.” So maybe today’s lesson is the temptation of Jesus, part 2…
It is about all of us… Peter, James, John, Judas… and you and me. It’s about Jesus showing us how to say no to the things that tempt all of us… and I don’t mean that extra helping of chocolate cake… I mean the big things, the things that are soul crushing and spirit killing. Those things make us less human, less loving, less like the God in whose image we are created in. Gaining the whole world, gaining profit and fame and status is nothing but a path to self destruction if we don’t have Jesus as the center of all that we do. There are those other things that others may not see that are just as spirit killing, things that we cannot bring ourselves to give up… addiction, unresolved anger, self centeredness, abusive behavior, racist behavior…. there are others… These behaviors are every bit as dangerous as the greed that Satan tried to get Jesus to succumb to in the desert. All of these kinds of things keep us separated from God and from each other, because it places the material world and our own perceived needs and desire for power in place of God; these behaviors keep us focused on the world of the empire, rather than the kingdom of God. They are death dealing rather than life giving… God came to earth in the person of Jesus so that we might give up all of the death dealing behaviors of our lives and instead gain back our lives and truly learn how to live….
As we continue this journey through Lent, I encourage all of us to see how the things we have given up or taken on are helping us to gain our lives; how are the temptations to go back to our pre-Lenten behaviors helping us to see what we truly need in our lives? Are we growing closer to Jesus, even though his way will require us to carry his cross for the life of others?
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.