Friday, 28 August 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this week’s gospel reading we hear Jesus say 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. These harsh words come immediately after Jesus has pronounced Peter as the rock on which his church will be built, and has given him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Peter has gone from the highest to the lowest in the matter of a few moments. In this dramatic scene of humiliation there lies a lesson for all of us. Having been pronounced the foundation of the church, Peter assumed an intimacy with Jesus that was inappropriate. It was inappropriate because it involved challenging God’s plan for Jesus and, thus, for the whole of humanity for the whole of time. Having been told that Jesus would soon die (and rise again) Peter argued with the wisdom of God in pursuing this plan. Hence Jesus’ harsh words. So often we find ourselves in Peter’s place. We cannot accept the situation God has placed us in and we argue. Our arguments make no sense because they are based on human, and not divine, wisdom. We, like Peter, are incapable of seeing the bigger picture, or we are so wrapped up in our own way of thinking that nothing and no-one else matters to us. It is at those moments that we need to hear Jesus saying: Get behind me, Satan. When we are behind Jesus, following in his footsteps, we will be protected and sure-footed as we travel through this life. It is only when we steadfastly believe that we know best that we become a stumbling block to ourselves, to others and to Jesus’ mission on earth.
Over the last six months, the message of this week’s gospel message has been hammered home in my mind. Things have been radically different and I have had to contend with many people challenging the status quo. I have had so many conversations about the need to protect others rather than wallow in our own sense of comfort and security. Most of those conversations have ended with an amicable understanding that we have a duty to care for others, just as was taught and modelled by Jesus himself. Only occasionally have I been confronted with a resolute selfishness that defies the Christian principle of love and service. I mention this because this week’s gospel goes on with Jesus explaining his manifesto for Christian service in the most explicit of terms. Jesus says: if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
In the gospel narrative we see many people bringing Jesus’ words to life. We see people making great sacrifices to become followers of Jesus; we see people being prepared to bear the indignity and the pain of the cross in Jesus’ name; and we see people abandoning their old ways of life in order that they might truly follow him. All of this remains relevant to this day. 2020 is a year that will not be forgotten by any who have lived through it. It is a year that has challenged us to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses and to follow. However, for all of this to be of true value, it is important that we know who we are following. Charismatic politicians, medical experts and scientific pundits are not the ones we should be following. Yes, their advice is valuable, but it can also be a distraction because their wisdom is human and not divine. There is only one person we should be following during this difficult year, and through all our days, and that is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
With every blessing to you all,