August 31, 2014
Since social media has come on the scene,
every day it seems, I get requests from people to “follow” them.
They ask me to follow their blog,
or follow them on Twitter.
What ‘following’ means is that I get their blog updates
or their tweets every time they post.
It’s quite easy to follow.
A couple of clicks, and you’re there!
And once you start following someone,
they give you suggestions of others you can follow too!
There are days where I start following a dozen of people or places in one sitting!
Following someone on social media comes with perks.
When I follow a person I get their insights or their wisdom or their humor.
When I follow a nonprofit I get pictures about what they’re doing.
When I follow a theater company or a music group, I get discounts.
When I follow a store I get coupons.
When I follow someone on social media, I get things…
Maybe that’s what Peter was expecting.
It’s been one of those weeks.
Just last Sunday we heard he had been the dazzling student.
When Jesus asked who he was, he had the right answer.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” he said.
It was a beautiful moment!
Peter had made a confession of faith.
And Jesus had patted him on the back,
and said, “Blessed are you Simon.
From now one, you shall be called Peter,
and on this rock I shall build my church.”
That happened in Caesarea Philippi…
and if you visit Caesarea Philippi as a tourist,
you can visit the spot where Peter said those famous words….
ironically there’s a rock there!
Well today the rock has become a stumbling block.
And Peter has become Satan.
What went wrong?
What was so wrong – so satanic even – about what Peter said?
Here’s what the gospel says:
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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
And at that, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!”
Peter didn’t want Jesus to undergo suffering…
is that so satanic?
What would happen if Jesus wasn’t beaten and crucified?
In the 50’s Nikos Kazantzakis wrote a book about Jesus which
Martin Scorcese later made into a film: The Last Temptation of Christ.
Both the book and the film were controversial.
Kazantzakis was excommunicated from the Orthodox church and the book was placed on the list of Forbidden works by the Roman Catholic church.
What was so threatening?
Among other things, Kazantzakis dares to imagine a Jesus who isn’t crucified.
Kazantzakis takes us to the climactic scene where Jesus is on the cross.
An angel comes to him.
She sounds quite a bit like Peter.
She tells him that God is pleased with him and wants him to be happy.
She helps bring him down off the cross
and Jesus has a very worldly life.
He marries, has children…
His life becomes very uncontroversial.
The Romans are no longer after him;
The Jewish authorities are no longer threatened by him.
His disciples return to their own lives.
Jesus becomes an old man.
His life of teaching and of healing and of preaching are stories from the past
that he tells his grandchildren by the fire.
This is the good long life without suffering that Peter envisioned for Jesus.
In the end, it is Judas who reveals to Jesus
that the angel who helped him down from the cross?
The angel was Satan.
Kazantzakis argues that if Jesus did not die on the cross,
his life would have had no more significance than that of any other philosopher.
And of course, there would have been no resurrection.
And of course Jesus knows that.
And of course there’s more to this text.
Jesus dares to ask for the same from his followers.
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
We can lead quiet and uncontroversial lives as followers of Jesus –
much as we do as followers of athletes or politicians or TV personalities on Twitter.
We can observe, click ‘like’ periodically, retweet what they say,
and make an occasional comment.
But that’s not the kind of followers Jesus is looking for.
Jesus says he is looking for the kind of followers who will respond
by taking up their own crosses
and follow him.
I like the way Sister Joan Chittister poses the question to those of us who would follow Jesus:
“Have we ever done anything to be crucified for?”
She adds, “The cross is what we feel when the project flounders,
when the job ends, when the love disintegrates,
when the position is over,
when all the supporters go away.
Then we begin to realize that life’s real problem
does not lie in being nailed to a cross,
it lies in choosing a cross that is too small to justify being nailed to in the first place.”[i]
At the next service,
Philippa Kara will be baptized.
She will begin her life as a follower of Jesus.
Our baptismal service includes a prayer asking God that she be patient in suffering.
On this day, perhaps you’re surprised we don’t ask God to take away her suffering.
Rather, we ask that when she suffers, that it be for something that is worth suffering for.
A life without suffering, is a life without the need for hope.
It is a life without transformation.
It is a life without faith.
Without the cross, there is no resurrection.
“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.
God can and will bring new life.
[i] Joan Chittister, “The Way of the Cross,” Benetvision.