Poor old Simon Peter!
He does his best, but there are so many times when he just doesn’t get it.
Last week, we heard about his epiphany…the time when he recognised the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God…The moment when he won his Kingdom name…Peter…the rock.
This week he speaks with equal conviction…and is equated with Satan.
It’s really not easy being an apostle, is it?
Let’s imagine ourselves in his place.
Let’s imagine that we have enjoyed the daily companionship of Jesus…have listened to his teachings…broken bread with him…watched him transform the lives of men, women and children by his presence as much as his miracles.
Let’s imagine that we have gladly given up everything for the sake of his company – just to be with him, to be known as one of his followers.
I would guess that each of us is here because at some level we’ve made the same choices as Simon…
But think if we had to take Jesus out of the equation…if we had to imagine life without him. I’m sure that is what prompted Peter to take him to one side and try to persuade him to see sense.
The very clarity of vision which had enabled him to recognise the Messiah meant that he was horribly clear what life would be like for him if Jesus went to his death.
He was very sure that he understood how a Messiah should behave – and “suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and being killed” simply wasn’t on the agenda.
Of course, there was this baffling line about being raised on the third day – but that just didn’t make any sort of sense…it certainly wasn’t something to rely upon.
No…Peter was adamant.
Death should not touch his Messiah.
Oh…where would we be without Peter?
So often, he models all the faults and failings that we too struggle with…
Here he has decisively proved that one can proclaim Christ as Lord without really grasping what that means in real life. Peter is convinced that his Messiah will triumph through strength…He’s completely floored by the way of the Kingdom.
“If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, 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 gain it”
It’s Alice in Wonderland logic, isn’t it?
If we pursue our goal, we will never reach it…but if we focus instead on a different way – why then all, all will be ours.
No wonder Simon Peter struggled.
He knew the right words, but the living reality was altogether too much for him.
He wanted to keep his version of Jesus safely confined in a box tailor made for the purpose. I suspect we all try that from time to time.
We don't fully understand God and so we try to fit God, in all his greatness, into our understanding, rather than expand our understanding to encompass God.
The problem is that, try as we might, we simply can't get Jesus into a little box…nor a bigger one...We can't squash him into one the size of this church –nor of the whole church militant here on earth.
Our God, heaven cannot hold him says the Christmas carol – and it’s true.
Jesus cannot be confined by any framework that we might devise…
He is the God of surprises…leaping from our boxes as he leapt from the tomb….challenging our expectations again and again.
And the challenge that he issues is the challenge of the cross.
Not a nice shiny piece of jewellery but a harsh and bloody instrument of death.
Literal death for Jesus.
Death of self for the rest of us….
Deny yourself. The hardest thing for us, a uniquely egotistical species
We are called to follow one who gave his life away, gave himself away for the sake of others, and of God’s Kingdom.
The way of the cross is anything but easy…I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t admit that I’m inclined to feel the same as Peter…It would be so much better if things could be different.
Well, so much easier anyway…
Better? God knows!
For now, though, let’s remember our calling to take up the cross
Of course it’s not easy. It isn’t meant to be.
Taking up the cross is all about growing discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships.
It is all about increasing anger at the injustice, oppression, and exploitation of our brothers and sisters across the world.
It’s about weeping, sharing the weight of grief with all who mourn and suffer Taking up the cross, and following Jesus is about discovering at first hand that God will bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference.
So we will find our lives as we reach out to share the burden for others
So we walking the way of the cross will find it none other than the way of life and peace.