Monday, March 02, 2009

Get behind me, Satan!

We are continuing our "Gospel Sound Bites" with this quick quip from Jesus to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan!"

I'm sort-of kicking myself this Monday, wondering what I was thinking in picking this phrase out of this week's rich text from Mark. (I could have easily gone for "Take up your cross and follow me," for example...)

I confess: articulating a theological understand of Satan's power is not the pastoral task that puts me most at-ease.

(You can see a clever cartoon of the dilemma here, from ASBO Jesus in England.)

Last week, we focused on repentance. This week Satan. Dangerous ground--these ideas are laden with the baggage of a legacy of self-righteous, judgmental use. And yet, I admit my own curious inability to resist giving them a go.

(As if I can be the one to wrest new, true, life-giving, liberating meaning out of the stuff of fear-mongering fire-and-brimstone preaching, and hand-painted signs waved by end-predicting fanatics.)

I suppose this would be a good place for a little Lenten humility. I can't claim to understand exactly why Jesus chose this angry rebuke, renaming Peter (who, incidentally, was given the name "Peter" by Jesus, too, because, apparently, because of his rock-like foundational leadership) as Satan.

Satan, in Mark's gospel, is the one who was testing Jesus in the wilderness. And the one who steals the Word of God before it can bear fruit, in the language of the Parable of the Sower. An adversary, at the least, and, somehow, the incarnation of temptation to the opposite of God's intentions for the world.

What did Peter do to earn this name? He spoke up in opposition to Jesus' description of the suffering and rejection he was to experience from the folks in power at the time.

It looks as though Peter had a different vision of what the Messiah should experience--something other than suffering in the hands of those in power. I imagine Peter thought Jesus would become the hands in power.

(Which, come to think of it, is one of the temptations Satan offered to Jesus in the wilderness, according to Matthew and Luke's gospels.)

In Lent, we're tempted to talk a lot about suffering. Many take on Lenten practices that are uncomfortable--fasting, for example. (Or, perhaps, giving up chocolate. Or Facebook.) I suspect, though, that this is not the kind of suffering that Jesus was taking about. Not fasting, or self-flagellation, or ever self-imposed guilt.

Jesus was to suffer rejection by the powerful leaders of his time, because he presented a different way of living in the world. His message and his ministry were a threat to the established power and priorities of his time. (And, come to think of it, in a whole bunch of ways, ours...)

So, when Jesus called Peter out, he was clarifying that this ministry is not about accumulating power. It's about being fully-committed to a new way of living.

I'm not thinking that I'd much like being called Satan, but I do admit to my need for help in staying on track toward God's kingdom values.

In the midst of a world filled with far too much suffering, we are called to honor a God who calls us out when we put our own power above the needs of the suffering of the world.

1 comment:

feminist_mom said...

listening to the suffering...... not easy and very tough, challenging !