Jesus says “Get behind me!”
There are some one-liners that stick in our collective memory. Some are silly like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Hasta la vista baby!” from Terminator Two and Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men. From history we have Churchill’s famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And, JFK’s line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I would wager that biblically speaking Jesus’ “Get behind me Satan!” can hold its own with any one liner. Jesus’ anger, frustration, and exasperation is right up there with Col. Jessup’s contempt in A Few Good Men. Jesus lets Peter, and the rest of the disciples, know in no uncertain terms just how he is the Messiah.
Let’s backup first and talk about how we got to the point of Jesus rebuking Peter in such strong language. I mean calling someone Satan is a bit rough wouldn’t you agree. This is the disciple that Jesus appears to have the closest relationship. Peter is present at the Transfiguration and in the garden. It is Peter, James, and John that appear to be Jesus’ closest confidants and the ones he turns to for support during difficult times. With all that being said it is a bit ironic that these three are so close to Jesus because they are also the three that tend to miss the mark on the kind of Messiah Jesus reveals himself to be. Peter is never comfortable with Jesus’ talk concerning the cross. James and John constantly ignore Jesus when he speaks of his impending death and they change the topic by discussing who will be the greatest and these incidents all take place after Jesus rebukes Peter. If these guys are so slow on the uptake then why did Jesus pick them in the first place? If these three are the best of the bunch then why did Jesus pick any of the disciples?
The disciples Jesus called to be his apostles are a motley crew to say the least. Of the twelve you have two hot head fishermen brothers, James and John. You have Peter who assumes he knows more than he does. You have Matthew, aka Levi, a tax collector, who is viewed as a traitor. There is Simon the Zealot, who would have been a revolutionary. Then there is Judas Iscariot, who also had a revolutionary background and ultimately betrayed Jesus. In order to understand the full scope of the diversity of opinions that Jesus gathered around him imagine bringing together a group of twelve members of completely opposite world views. Gather together members of Black Lives Matter, the members of a white supremacy group, an employee of the IRS who is in charge of collections, a Missouri Synod pastor, an ELCA pastor, and maybe a pundit for Fox News and MSNBC. What’s the first thing that would come to mind? This will never work! It’s not simply that each person has a different opinion, but that each person has a very strong opinion and they all think their opinion is right. This is exactly the group of people that Jesus gathered around himself and quite frankly it gives me a lot of hope.
Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our own time and place that we forget that 2018 is another date in a long history of human conflict. From the time of Cain and Able through today people have been at odds with one another. Even people who were on the same side couldn’t agree on why they were on the same side. The only difference between today and two thousand years ago is that they didn’t have cable news. We didn’t invent partisan politics we just found a way to market it to the masses and turn a profit. In Jesus’ day the divisions within his culture were deep and rooted in centuries of oppression. Each faction had a clear understanding of how God would bring about a restored Israel and each faction was prepared to fight for their beliefs. Ironically, Jesus gathered members of each faction to be his followers. When Jesus calls these men to follow him he means it as a form of repentance. They are to turn from their strongly held beliefs and follow the way of Jesus.
Sometimes we hear the phrase, “Let go and let God.” This is what Jesus was asking each disciple. They were to let go of their beliefs about how God would act in the world and let God show them through Jesus how God is acting in the world. This is easier said than done. I mean really how many times have you prayed to yourself, “Thy will be done” and truly meant it? How many times have you turned around and taken those words back and forced your own will? We do it all the time. So it’s easy to point a finger at Peter, who just can’t get his head around Jesus’ proclamation about his death. It’s easy for us to stand on the sideline of history and think, “What’s your problem Peter! Why are you being so obstinate?” The truth is we are all like Peter, but in some ways even worse. Peter didn’t have the benefit of hindsight when he took Jesus aside to have a private word. Peter had no way of knowing that Good Friday would take place or that Easter Sunday would occur. You and me, on the other hand, we don’t have an excuse.
When Jesus called Peter Satan he was saying Peter is accusing him of being wrong about his purpose in and for the world. The word Satan is another word for “accuser” or “prosecutor” of God and God’s people. What Jesus is saying is that Peter is accusing Jesus of being misguided about the role of the Messiah in the world. Don’t we behave just like Peter all the time? We too have been called to follow Jesus and to embrace Jesus’ world view of non-violence, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. We hear the words of Jesus on Sunday morning, we read the words of Jesus in our devotions and study the words of Jesus throughout the week, but do we really follow his teachings? Do we take what we like and ignore the rest like Peter and the other disciples? When Jesus challenges our world views or our political positions do we say to ourselves, “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean what he said” or, do we spiritualize his teachings and figure that what he was talking about was heaven and not about here on earth?
The good news for all of us is that Jesus truly understands our short comings and our character defects. Jesus called this crazy partisan, opinionated, diverse group of people together to demonstrate that the only way the world will change is through him. The twelve had to let go of their past, their opinions, their divisions, and unify in the gospel. It wasn’t an easy path to tread. There were plenty of bumps along the way both before Easter and after Easter. What is obvious is that eventually these men found common ground in the good news of Jesus and through the gospel were able to spread the message.
What ultimately unified these men was the experience of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The wake-up call of the cross and how it exposed their own weaknesses created a new foundation for their reality. When Jesus was crucified they faced their own fears and failed. All their strongly held opinions and beliefs couldn’t prepare them for the reality of the cross. In the cross they experienced their own brokenness. In the resurrection they experienced God’s forgiveness and mercy. It is from that point on that they became a unified community grounded in the gospel.
My hope is that in our Lenten journey we can face our short comings, our character defects and realize that through the cross God makes us whole and united. My hope is that we can look at the sacrifice of Jesus and put our priorities in order. The cornerstone of our faith is Christ, and Christ crucified. Like his demand to Peter to get behind him, he demands all of us to get behind him and follow. When we keep Christ as our guide we can’t go to wrong. Its only when we think we know better that we get lost. Let us fall into line and follow. Let Jesus best one-liner be our ultimate hope, which is his first words he spoke to his disciples after the resurrection “Peace be with you.” Let Jesus’ peace be our hope and our guide.