Time After Pentecost – Lectionary 22 (A) Matthew 16:21-28 August 31, 2008
There is a common refrain told to people who are anxious about going into new situations… Something I can remember my own parents telling me as a younger child when I was afraid to join in with new people. “Just be yourself.”
Isn’t that a funny thing to say to someone? “Just be yourself!?” Yet, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is so easy for us, the human creations that we are, to “forget ourselves” or to put on pretense—to pretend to be something other than who we are. Out of all of the creations on God’s green Earth I can think of no other that ever need this reminder.
But for us, human creatures that we are, part of the unique experience that we face (among God’s creations) is that we have such a strong cognitive ability to analyze ourselves. That is to say, we can think in such depth about our own selves that we can become detached – we can contemplate our own existence, we can fear for our selves – we can have such insight into the work of God’s hands, that we can (in a way) and often do try to second guess the creator (think Genesis-Adam and Eve sowing fig leaves over themselves, because suddenly they were embarrassed about the way God made them—this is a human condition that I despise).
Insecure with our position in the human family, as if we can change our position. Insecure with our families of origin, as if we had a choice in them. Insecure with the bodies God gave us, as if we can exchange them in for new ones.
In a way, this discussion lends itself to what is happening at this point in the Gospel of Matthew. Remember last week, that through the declaration of Peter, it was revealed to all of the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah.
The Messiah – what that means is that God, the creator has given Jesus a unique role among creation which can not be changed. This is the point being made here and what is absolutely clear, by the discussion in the scripture. This is not a human decision. No, Jesus and his disciples did not wake up one day and decide that he would be the world’s messiah. He could not do that any more than you could wake up and decide that you would be witty (lets face it, you either have it or you don’t) compassionate or easy to talk to. There are some things that people just are. In the Gospel’s it is much more of a discovery, rather than a decision, “Ah this is who and what you are Jesus…”
The Messiah. In today’s gospel, after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the scripture reads...
“Jesus began to show his disciples that [as the Messiah] he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
This, according to Jesus… is the role of the Messiah. This is what the Messiah does. This is what it is.
Now, when Peter objects to this, saying “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you”… When Peter objects to what Jesus is telling them about his calling/ his messianic identity, we learn from Jesus’ reaction how much is at stake.
It is as if Peter had just asked him not to be himself. Do not be what God created you to be. “Do not be yourself.”
Brothers and sisters, we can imagine Peter was saying this with a lack of understanding and with fear about the future, and it may have even been out of love for Jesus, but as it turns out, it was the wrong thing to say. A painful thing to say.
Have you ever been asked not to be yourself?
Or better yet, have you ever been Peter, asking someone else not to be themselves? Maybe you were afraid for them. “Don’t be brave, it will only get you hurt.”
Or worse, maybe you were ashamed of them… “Don’t pick me up in front of the school mom. I’m ashamed of you.”
With Peter, I think it may have been like this last one. You know that what Jesus was talking about was a shame-filled thing – a humiliating thing that would soon happen to him in Jerusalem. The cross—before it became for us a symbol of Jesus—was a sign of the deepest shame. To me, it still is. The cross is a symbol not of glory but of brokenness and sin. God puts it in front of us to remind us of our need: both the need of the world and the need inside each one of us for healing; for cleansing; for redemption.
So, when Peter objected, Jesus answered him, “Get behind me Satan (meaning tempter)! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Brothers and Sisters, we (especially us in the church—as we live together) we must constantly keep in our hearts and our minds the reality that God is the creative force behind everyone we meet.
It is God who gives each of us our own selves.
It is God who gives us –the most precious thing we have – and that is who we are.
There is a word for this in Greek—psuxey—“the soul.”
It is at this point that Jesus teaches all of his disciples a lesson, saying, “If any want to become my followers, let the deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
This, I take to mean Let go of your pride. Pick up whatever you are ashamed of and bring it with you. Enough of this being ashamed of what you have nothing to do with. We’ve been doing it since Adam and Eve, but it stops here with Jesus.
And then he says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
It cannot be denied that the image of the cross is also the most shameful and humiliating thing about being human. For it speaks of our mortality. In order for you to embrace this life, you must embrace the truth about it. You must embrace your mortality. You will only be here for a little while.., so do things that matter. Accept your death and never forget, never live in denial about who and what you are. You are a creation of God and ultimately your fate lies in him. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ… be someone who accepts the truth – and doesn’t live in denial.
And finally he says, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life (psuxey = soul).”
Do you recognize that, I don’t know about you but it sounds to me like a familiar refrain… “Be yourself.”
Brothers and sisters, be yourself! For you are a beloved and precious child of God.
Pastor Joshua Magyar
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270