The following is a reflection on Matthew 16:21-28, the Gospel lesson for August 28, 2011, according to the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 17).
• Be sure to check out a reflection on the Hebrew Bible lesson for the same day .
“Get behind me Satan!” has been a stock conversational phrase in our culture for quite some time now. But, even though we use it, and hear it, often, I’m not sure we’re much closer to understanding it.
And, the reason for that, is that what Jesus is saying here is so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive that we psychologically set it outside the realm of possibility and understanding.
Jesus lashed out at Peter because Peter wants to try and save Jesus.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Not only does Jesus not need saving, but Jesus is opposed to us trying to save ourselves too.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is anti-self-preservation. The Gospel isn’t about saving our lives–but losing our lives.
This should be mind-blowing. I mean, think about how much effort and energy we as individuals and as a society put into self-preservation. Last year the Federal Government spent 685.1 billion dollars on the military. This year the Homeland security budget is just shy of 100 billion dollars. The parish I serve spends over $10,000 a year insuring our property. The parish spends far more than that on insuring the health of me and my family.
Now, to be sure, when I get on a plane with my family, I’m very glad that there’s a lot of people spending a lot of time keeping that plane in the air and landing safely. And, the other day when we saw a table of army soldiers eating dinner at the same restaurant we were eating in, I took a moment to express my thanks for their service to our country. And, I’m beyond grateful that when me or my family gets sick or hurt, all we need to do is come up with a co-pay.
But, just think of the enormity of resources that we bring to bear on our own self-preservation. Think how much time and effort we spend preserving our economic system, our economic successes, and our political power in the world.
And yet Jesus tells us that losing our lives is what it’s all about. In fact, it’s only when we lose our life that are we able to find it.
That’s what Jesus calls keeping our minds on “divine things.”
Thinking about this, and trying to work it out in my head is like trying to imagine an infinite universe with no boundary or end point. It mentally hurts. And, I think it mentally hurts because I’ve been so trained and inculturated to preserve absolutely everything, and keep everything safe.
It was obviously past Peter’s mental capacity too. At least on that day. Of course, by the day when he was crucified upside-down for his faith, it had apparently sunk in.
This is a passage that we could use some praying with. This would be a good week to pray—asking God to help us imagine what losing our lives looks like.
We should steep ourselves in this passage, and mindset, until we get to the point when we’re able to turn the old evangelical question on it’s head, and ask on another: Are you lost?
For then, we shall be found.