Daily Worship

Burning words

September 04, 2020 0
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Matthew 16: 21-28 (NRSV)

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.”

Though Peter may not have written it all, or written it at all, the second letter put out in his name anticipates a time when bits of the universe will dissolve in flames (one thinks of stellar process), and as a result we should lead godly lives waiting for ‘the day of the Lord’. In our reading today, Peter’s misdirected vision was excoriated, burned up by our Lord Jesus, who knew much more about ‘the day of the Lord’ than Peter did.

The passage in Matthew’s gospel comes just after Peter has broken through to confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, and received a warm commendation from Jesus. He must have felt good about that, confirmed in his leadership role; with the keys of the kingdom, he could surely be trusted with knowing the right road for the King; and so he blunders across the path of Jesus with his misunderstanding of what it means to be Messiah.

What a burning word for anyone called to leadership, whether in home or country, church or business! Can we accept that we might, just might, get something very wrong indeed, no doubt with the best motives? Can we imagine Jesus saying ‘Get behind me, Satan’ to us? A cursory look over Church history teaches us that leaders can get things very wrong.

The diagnosis of Peter’s mistake is that he is setting his mind on human things instead of divine things, the things of men instead of the things of God. This is a far cry from the jibe that ‘he is so heavenly minded he is no earthly use’ — the things of God, in this instance, will take Jesus to the darkest places of earth and beyond, into the spiritual realm of death, to haul humanity back from extinction and worse. Our Lord goes on to say that if we follow him, we will experience some of this ourselves.

MEDITATE and PRAY part of the ‘fire hymn’, originally a poem by the Italian Banco da Siena:

“Come down O love divine,
seek out this soul of mine
and visit it with your 
own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear
and kindle it, your 
holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes,
in its heat consuming;
and let your glorious light
shine ever on my sight
and clothe me round, 
the while my path illuming.”