Monday, January 18, 2010

The Feast of the Confession of St. Peter: A Devotional Commentary

Mark 8:27-9:1 Jesus went out with his disciples into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others yet say that you are one of the prophets.” Jesus said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ!” Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone who he was. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the presbyters, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke to them openly. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus, turning around and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus called the multitude to himself with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Indeed, whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will save it. What does it profit if someone, to gain the whole world, loses his life? For what will someone give in exchange for his life? Whoever will be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I tell you that there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Reign of God come with power.”

Just like today, when Jesus walked the earth people had all kinds of ideas about who He was and what He came to do. Some thought He was John the Baptist brought back from the dead. Some thought He was Elijah. Others thought He was just a random prophet. But Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is. Peter says, "You are the Christ!" Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone. Why wouldn't He want the disciples to tell everyone? Because just about everyone had false ideas about what it meant to be the Christ. They wanted a Christ that would give them their best life now. They wanted a Christ that would destroy the Romans and stick it to the Caeser-man.

And so did Peter. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ but Peter didn't really know what that meant. Jesus starts telling them about His upcoming crucifixion and Peter pulls Jesus aside, "Whoa! Jesus, I'm not sure you understand what the Christ is supposed to do." Jesus says, "Get out of my sight Satan!"

In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to be a crossless Christ. Now Peter does the same. All the false religions of this world have crossless christs. When bad things happen many in the church would just like to ignore them and focus on the positive. If death or some type of horrible suffering is brought up, people change the subject. They don't want you spoiling their illusion of what the world is like and what it really means to be a Christian. When people die they want to have a celebration of life. Even those in the pro-life camp often treat miscarried and still born babies as if they weren't real people. Don't mourn their loss, look at your other kids you have and count your many blessings. Refuse to acknowledge that any of these bad things really exist. With the way some Christians talk you would think they were all Scientologists. Popular Christianity is all about a crossless Christ. Often, people object to the crucifix with the dead Christ hanging on it on the grounds that we worship the resurrected Christ. An empty cross is still a symbol of the crucifixion. The cross would still be empty if Jesus were never resurrected. But we like to fool ourselves. We certainly do worship the resurrected Christ and celebrate the resurrection every Sunday. But our resurrection is still future. Our resurrection comes when Christ returns. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are living the resurrected life now in its fullness but only by identifying ourselves with the false christs of this world. To be a true Christ-follower in our current setting is to worship the crucified Christ. To be a Christ-follower in this present age means to live a life of self-denial and to take up your cross. Our self-identification at this time must always be with the crucified Christ. Anything else is a lie of Satan. Through baptism we are joined to Christ and partake in His sufferings.

Jesus warns those who deny Christ when being a Christian is inconvenient for them. If you deny Christ, Christ will deny you. Then Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not die until after they saw the kingdom of God coming in power. But this happened in an unexpected way as well. This happened in a way that was the exact opposite of what the religious types wanted. Those Jews who wanted a crossless Christ who would destroy their enemies would be utterly devastated. The disciples who were still living at the time saw the Reign of God come with power in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The crucified Christ is the only real Christ. He is the only one who could fulfill the law and He ushered in a new age.

Just before the crucifixion, Peter denied Christ three times. Peter was ashamed of Christ. Peter would not have been ashamed of a christ who came to give him power and destroy his enemies. Peter was ashamed of the real Christ who acted in a completely opposite way from the false christs. Peter was ashamed of the crucified Christ. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you hide our faith. But you also show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you speak of the Christian life as one in which real Christians are "happy all the day." You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you choose to ignore your neighbor's burdens rather than bear them. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you expect everyone to pull himself up by his bootstraps. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you value political ideologies above your faith. You show that you are ashamed of the crucifed Christ when you demand your rights. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you choose to do something else instead of receiving Christ's body and blood in the sacrament. All these things are of the Devil. The Devil wants nothing more than to keep us as far away as possible from the crucified Christ and he usually succeeds. Every time you sin you deny the crucified Christ who says that He has washed you clean.

Where can you find hope since you are such a miserable Christ-denying sinner? The same place that the Christ-denying Peter found hope--in the crucified Christ. Peter was restored after the resurrection and proclaimed the Gospel of the crucified Christ boldly. His restoration did not result in a life of ease. Peter was crucified upside down for his proclamation of the crucified Christ. The crucified Christ is certainly worth getting crucified for. Because Christ was crucified for you and has given you something worth even more than your life.

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