Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Finding, Losing and Rewards

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost brings us to continue hearing words of Jesus that were primarily said to Peter. According to Saint Matthew, our Lord predicted his own suffering and death, and we hear that his disciple Peter declared alarm. A difference existed between them. Thus, Peter being an example of discipleship, gave opportunity for valuable illustration concerning the proper aims for the modern Christian church…

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21-28)

Showing Us the Way…
In continuation from the previous conversation between our Lord and his disciples about the perception of both people and themselves, in this text Jesus created  a counterpoint example between the found and the lost. Differing from the earlier penned Markan acconnt of this conversation (c. 65-70A.D.), Matthew included something that Mark had omitted. Matthew’s gospel stated clearly that Jesus must go to Jerusalem. We emphasize the “must” expressed. Jesus told them using this word, therefore, that Jerusalem was the site not only of confrontation where the powers of this world was set over against him, but also the word contained an imperative ending that was written in stone. Jesus said that he “must” go. This last signified that the course unfolding was one that was laid out for our Lord from the very beginning of creation. As Savior, this was a role that he had accepted from the beginning. What was most profound was that the path was one pleasing to… and required… by the Father. We note with interest that Matthew was the only gospel writer telling this, who named the place of the imperative act. Thus it may be gathered that the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus that had occurred by the time of writing, was very important to the walk of the writer’s own community. It seems that he wanted his community to distance themselves from the central core of the Judaic government and temple cult.
 However, within this passionate statement we note that Jesus revealed to the disciples that his journey to Jerusalem was not going to include a pleasant reception. Suffering and death would be the outcome for him. Here we remember from last week’s lesson that Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Having done so, Peter was praised by Jesus for confessing that which had been revealed to him by the Father. The praise from Jesus resounded across the centuries that “upon the Rock” of faith our Lord would build his church. We may gather that this  played well as told, as written and read in Antioch of Syria… the community wherein the Matthean gospel was written. You see, Peter had exerted much influence there.
 We find as this reading progressed, that Peter and Jesus had different thoughts which were unfolded. The difference seemed to center about just what “Messiah” meant to Peter. For Peter, it seems that he had futuristic visions of Jesus going to Jerusalem to rightfully claim rule of both government and temple… to restore the former earthly glory of the kingdom. which had been present in the days of David and Solomon.
 Readiug his motivations then, could we today say that in this way, Peter hoped the burden of Roman rule could be cast off from the chosen people of God? As the pebble named and eventually becoming a rock of faith, Peter at first had a differing vision for the Messiah, Therefore Peter “took” ( Greek – proslabomenous ) Jesus aside. Peter went “nose to nose” with our Lord. He upbraided our Lord, but in turn was firmly chastised. He received a distancing statement. Peter had provided an argument from sinful ambition. His statement had been provided to him by Satanic powers of the world. He therefore garnered the…  “Get behind me Satan!” retort.
 Suddenly the earlier Matthean image of the divinely-favored Petrine position was gone from the reading. Jesus told his leading disciple to get in line. In other words, Jesus was asking… “Whom shall you serve?” Why we might wonder?
 As the community knew by the time of this gospel’s writing, Peter was to serve God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the sinful appetites of humanity. At the time, Jesus turned to the whole audience of disciples. He clarified what the apostles were intended to be and do… and a great lesson was delivered to the later church. We see that for Matthew’s community, the founding voice of Peter had been put in its proper place. Centered then before them stood the words of Jesus, the Messiah. These were immovable! His conversation centered them around the carrying of the cross. In retrospect, glaringly meaningful was his message!

Addressing Factions!
 Striving within the early church was fierce, but here became revealed. Indeed, persons within the various roles of the early Matthean church life were tending to take Jesus aside. Though energetic and enthusiastic at first, these prophets, teachers and leaders were sometimes exerting forces which distracted and burdened the community. We read this in an admonition from the “Didache”, often rightly called the “Teaching of the Apostles of Jesus Christ”. Believed by many scholars to be written about 50 A.D…. some thirty years before Matthew’s gospel, within it we read much said about the guidelines concerning persons within the early church. Though written for the novice new to the faith, it gave both leaders and laypersons alike, certain behavioral standards…

“However, if a teacher has himself wandered from the right path and has begun to teach a teaching that is at odds with what is set out here, you should not listen to him. On the other hand, if his teaching promotes holiness and knowledge of the Lord, then you should welcome him as you would the Lord.(Didache 11.2)

 The difference loomed large, therefore, between a pebble and a rock for the church. Peter, having been named as “Rock” was called to promote “holiness and knowledge of the Lord”. Therefore we emphasize from the writings of the earlier prophets, who spoke at the time before Israel’s exile, that leaders such as Peter should not be placed too highly. He, nor others, should stand as a hindrance to the gospel of deliverance through Jesus. Jesus alone is the Messiah. Rendering “hindrance” then more interpreted as a “stumbling block”, we read first from the prophet…

But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”  (Isaiah 8:13-15)

 Thus the church was warned by the witness of this Hebrew prophetic writing, from an ancient text they held dear. The prophet warned about any persons or things that would usurp the foundation laid forever by Jesus’ death and Resurrection. We read…

… therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘He who believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” (Isaiah 28:16)

 Within this context then, Jesus the Messiah pointed beyond that immediate day wherein he taught. Though he had not yet suffered the cross. it was indelibly cut into the foundation of the future Matthean church. The perfectly innocent Messiah had been crucified… and had Risen. They thus stood as admonished.
 In modern times, we too are to carry the image of that tortuous device of rejection,  persecution and death. This is a theology of the cross, rather than a theology of glory. By being asked to carry such, the early church after the Resurrection knew of the given promise that any who do adhere to the cross faithfully would give voice, fall… and rise again. In this way, they would imitate the walk of their Teacher and Savior. This exhortation and instruction, therefore, hindered those who foolishly considered gaining mortal power and influence over the church. Proper payment will be made taught Matthew. Judgment of deeds shall follow.

Carrying the Cross!
These words are hammered upon the spiritual rocks that lay beneath our baptismal stream. They reflect the faith of our ancestors brightly into the church today. We stumble forward. Surely we are assailed by some of the same powers that burdened the early church. We are rent by similar forces walking both in and out of our number. But, through this wondrous reading, we know that the way of the cross of Jesus is the path for us. We are blessed if we should so carry it.
 As baptized sinners, individually we often stumble and fall in our daily lives as we try to take Jesus aside. We stubbornly rankle at scriptural words and instructions, whenever Satanic forces and demons try to muddy the waters of the baptismal font. We see as the church moved through history that these same demonic powers were present and still do not relent. But we have heard that they shall not have the last word. For the day comes when our Lord shall demonstrate his authority and judgment.
 Consider that it is indeed Satanic that some in our number try to raise offices of their own ministry or laity to the power and authority of Jesus, the Messiah sent by God. They even try to challenge and change scripture, either Law and Gospel. We arrive then at the conclusion that demons still rage.
  If the answer empowered by the guidance of the Holy Spirit remains in the affirmation of our faith, the words bring we sinners back to the foot of the cross to ask forgiveness. We remain as blessed within the church. We can lift the cross high, for we are like our forebears in the faith! It is truly as our Lord said of his followers...

 “…some shall not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

  So it was when the church of Matthew approached the table of our Lord, and so it is with us even now. Click below to go to our church blog...

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