August 15, 2020
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Dear Lake B Family and Friends,
I’d like to share a few thoughts from a colleague, Jenna Smith, who lives and ministers in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Below is an excerpt from an article she wrote reflecting on this week’s lectionary passage from Matthew 16. She wrote this article in response to a week of violence in her neighborhood and on the property of the church where her ministry rents space.
“Right now you might say I have a few, as Jesus puts it, human concerns.
Peter also had some human concerns. A Palestinian living in Roman-occupied territory, he had watched his teacher and friend heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, redeem the lost and feed the hungry. Then Jesus tells him he intends to go into Jerusalem and face certain violence and death. Peter has a human reaction. Don’t do it! Stay with us. Look at all the good we could accomplish! Stay near me—this world is in distress, and you can be its balm.
I was taught to read this passage as another one of Peter’s “mess-up moments.” At best, he didn’t understand. At worst, he was tempting Jesus to disobey God’s will. “Get behind me, Satan,” rebukes his rabbi.
Today, instead of this classic reading, I will indulge Peter and take pity on his human concerns. I share them. If my near and present leader was proposing to walk into the jaws of violence and death instead of retreating to safety, I might, just like Peter, attempt an intervention. Stay here. The world is bad enough as it is. We could use you with us. Don’t you see there is still work to do? Lessons to be taught? Friends to pass the day with? The lame to heal? A homeless population to love?
And Jesus was tempted. We might do well to read that rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” as a lens into Jesus’ mental state rather than a scale through which we measure Peter’s spiritual maturity.
Jesus was tempted. To stay amongst allied friends. To continue to win arguments over the Pharisees. To bring comfort to a crowd of grateful, forgotten Others.
Jesus was tempted. Our human concerns were his concerns, too. This is why he had given them over to Peter’s care. You are the rock, he claimed a few days prior. You will lead this community whose job it is to love, to teach, to heal, to advocate, to sanctify.
Jesus’ work of peace would lead him to the cross. Peter’s work of peace would grow out of that cross and flow with the leadership of the Holy Spirit into the first community of believers for whom human concerns was the sacred work of love. “
I’m grateful for Jenna’s words above. I feel them. I feel them because we are facing very present human concerns: the rising death toll of COVID 19, the constant, persistent racial violence being committed against black people in this country, the economic and health disparities of our nation, the vulnerability of our education system during this time and a political season filled with anger and hateful rhetoric just to name a few.
To name the social context we find ourselves in as “sacred work” was helpful for me. God has entrusted this time to us. May we be found faithful in this most sacred and hard work of love manifested in compassion, in justice and in peace.
Join me in praying for God’s wisdom for the Church, and for this sacred work we hold together,