Peter sometimes gets a bit of an unwarranted criticism throughout his time with Jesus. Yes he didn’t always get things right – but isn’t that human nature? Do we always get things right? There is the time he took his eyes of Jesus and sank while walking on water. There is the time he draws his sword at Jesus’ arrest to cut off the ear of one of those arresting Jesus and is criticised by Jesus – put away your sword! And who can forget his infamous 3 times denial of Jesus while Jesus is standing trial. And then there is today’s example.
After having been praised by Jesus for correctly confessing him as the Messiah, Peter now blows it by misunderstanding Jesus’ mission which would include his suffering and death. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. We know from other versions what Peter said – “never Lord, this shall never happen to you! To which Jesus then rebukes Peter. But notice whom Jesus places the blame actually on: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus knew first hand the work of Satan through his own temptations and knew how he was leading Peter astray.
As in those other examples I cited about Peter, the disconnect is when Peter allows his human response to a divine situation. Let’s remember that Peter actually walked on water for a brief time until the human response to the crisis of the wind and waves crashing around him – to which he took his eyes of Jesus and sank. Or his human response to Jesus’ attacker where he inflicts harm on the soldier arresting Jesus; Jesus rebukes him saying if that were the way don’t you think God would send his angels to do that? And again Peter’s human response of fear allowing his fear to deny knowing Jesus even though he was brave enough to attend the frontline of Jesus’ arrest.
Human responses to divine situations are natural but they don’t help our faith and trust in God. How are we any different if we allow our instincts to direct the way we respond to earthly challenges – which we all do. In our Old Testament reading we see another example of what happens when we allow our human actions to guide our response to a divine situation. Abraham was 99 years old when God appeared to him to assure him of his promise to give him a son – an heir to provide a family line for Abraham and Sarah. God had earlier made that promise but Abraham and Sarah began to worry because God had not acted. So they took a human response to a divine situation and Sarah gave her maid, Hagar, to Abraham to have a child with her – because it seemed God had failed in his promise to provide children to them. As a result, a son, Ishmael, was born and became a thorn in Abraham and Sarah’s life and continues for his offspring today with tension between Jews, Muslims and Christians – all claiming Abraham as their father.
This is what Paul means when he says: For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law – through Ishmael – but through the righteousness of faith.
The Law Paul speaks of is his human response to the divine situation. God promised him a child but Abraham and Sarah became impatient and took human action rather than trust God’s plan.
So too Peter. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ explanation of his future: that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed. But if Peter rejected this divine plan (Jesus’ suffering and death) then he also rejects the divine outcome – after three days rise again. We too have to keep trusting God and the plan he has for us. We might not always agree or understand but if we take human action then we can only expect a human outcome.
Let me give you a recent example that I’ve had a few people disagree with me. During the last lockdown – the 5 day circuit breaker – you may have seen a church on the news in Melbourne that defied the lockdown order and opened up their church for worship. They said – we must obey God’s orders and not man’s orders. So the question before us is – what is the right thing to do? What is “God’s orders”? What action follows God’s will?
Romans 13 says: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Peter’s letter says: For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. What Peter said in our Gospel reading sounded honourable – he wants to prevent Jesus from suffering and dying – but is that a human response to a divine situation? Likewise, by disobeying a Government direction for a church to remain closed – along with other institutions – is that a human response to a divine situation?
The Government wasn’t outlawing worship or religion but asking us, along with other organisations, to participate in an attempt to slow down the virus – asking us to be good citizens. Again, in the letter of Titus, we are to: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. If organisations and their workers abide by the request and see churches not doing so – is that a good witness? Will we be admired or admonished by the world?
Sometimes it’s not always easy or clear to know what the right thing to do is but when we live by faith putting our trust in God then even if it might seem as if it’s not the right thing to do we know that God is and always will be in control. Peter thought it was the honourable thing to do to protect Jesus from what seemed the wrong way to go. But if Jesus said it was the way to go then was Peter acting in faith? It’s not always easy to know what direction God is taking us but what we do know is that it is the way of the cross. So if the way we are going is a way that includes suffering then that suffering is not an indication of it being the wrong way.
The way that Jesus said he had to go did not look right to Peter. And if we had been there we most likely would have made the same mistake as Peter. The way of the cross is a way of suffering and that suffering can be experienced in various ways. The lockdown we have just experienced. The declining numbers in church and finances while other churches seem to flourish. The danger is not accepting the path God has laid down for us – like Abraham did – and Peter did – looking for human responses to divine actions. They made mistakes and we too will make mistakes. But look at God’s grace in them also:
Abraham became the father of faith and righteousness as he put his faith and trust in God even though he made the wrong decision earlier. Peter became the chief Apostle even though he even denied knowing Jesus in his time of need. And we too, if we continue to put our faith and trust in God to lead us along HIS path – we will get through our time of suffering even if the path ahead seems to be leading to a dead end. But let us remember, Jesus path, that he pointed out to his disciples led to a dead end – but then he rose from the dead – but he had to die first and that’s what Peter and the other disciples had to accept first.
So as we journey this Lent and beyond, let us also keep our faith in God who is leading us even if we cannot see or understand where God is leading us to. And remember, Jesus is with us always – even as we walk through the darkest valley – leading us to our eternal home in heaven.