by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Gospel for Sunday, February 8, 2015:
Matthew 16: 13-28
This Gospel shows us a picture of Jesus who knows that he's on a path to crucifixion. With clear sight and clear mission, Jesus warns his disciples of what's ahead.
Peter has a typical reaction: "That will never happen."
I've always had a fondness for St. Peter. I've always had a fondness for all the disciples, really. Such flawed people. So much like us all.
Think back to those early disciples, travelling the countryside with a mystifying man named Jesus. They must have had trouble figuring out exactly what was happening, much as we all do when we're in the midst of our life experiences. And yet, they are able to confess their belief and to commit to this new life path. For most, it will cost them their lives.
We'll have all kinds of crosses to bear, Jesus warns us, and we'll lose our lives in all kinds of ways. But we'll get wonderful rewards.
It's important to stress that Jesus isn't just talking about Heaven, or whatever your vision is of what happens when you die. If Jesus spoke directly, Jesus might say, "You're thinking too small. Did I give you an imagination so that you let it wither and waste away? Dream big, dream big."
I'm rereading N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. He's got interesting things to say about our ideas of life after death, but he's quick to stress that Jesus doesn't just announce a Kingdom in some Heaven that's somewhere else. On the contrary--the appearance of Jesus means that God's plan for redeeming creation has begun. And we're called to help. Wright says, ". . . you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus' saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project." (204-205). He points out, "But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within [our] world takes place not least through one of his creatures, in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image" (207). And for those of us who feel inadequate to the task, Wright (and before him, Jesus) reminds us of all the talents that we have at our disposal: "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).
For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy. Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).
We'll lose our current lives of bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and rage. But we'll find a better one as we become agents of the Kingdom.
In next week's meditation, I'll think about Peter as a rock, Peter as a set of keys. What metaphor describes your Kingdom work? Are you a rock? Are you sand? Are you an upright tree or one that bends?