Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s all praise the Lord!
Our church school kids LOVE this song. It gets pretty wild as we slap our thighs and stamp our feet. I think of this song whenever I read about Abraham and Sarah. God comes to them when they are SO old and makes a covenant, a promise to them. “I am God Almighty: walk before me and be blameless and I will make you exceedingly numerous.” I love that Abraham falls on his face, maybe laughing at the craziness of this idea. This is a tall order. Just be blameless and 100 year old Sarah will have a baby. God made a deal with them: Trust me and I will bless you.
I guess Abraham and Sarah trusted God because they were indeed blessed with a happy son whom they name Isaac, meaning ‘he laughs’. Sarah was just about 100 years old at the time of his birth. I was 40 years old when Jeff was born. During my pregnancy, I stole a glance at my chart and saw that I was described as having a ‘geriatric pregnancy’!! Well! I didn’t like that one bit. Imagine how Sarah’s pregnancy would have been described!
Our song says that we are children of Abraham. How does that work? Through our baptism we are adopted into the covenant as Abraham’s children. As Christians, we share the faith of Abraham along with Jews and Muslims. With our baptism, God chooses us and we choose God. Like Abraham, we enter into a personal relationship, a bond with God, a covenant. We are to trust God and he will bless us. What God began with Abraham and Sarah continues with Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he’s on his way to Jerusalem and is preparing to undergo great suffering, be rejected by everyone and then die. After three days he will rise again. Peter only hears the first part of the story and doesn’t like it. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!” Jesus turns on poor Peter. “Get thee behind me Satan!!! He goes on to tell his disciples in somewhat confusing language that if they want to follow him they have to take up crosses and deny themselves. If they want to save their lives, they will lose them, if they lose their lives, they will find them. They can gain the whole world but lose their lives. Phew. I’ve always been flummoxed by this Gospel. Let’s see if we can figure it out.
Peter stands there, having just been glorified by this great man, his best friend, his Lord. On his strong shoulders the whole church will be built. He will be the rock. He’s got to be feeling fine. Jesus segues into “and soon I’m going to die a terrible death.” Peter’s reply translates literally into “but that would be a scandal Jesus!” Peter does not want to let go of his friend. I can’t blame him for protesting. You or I would say the same thing.
Jesus just whips him verbally: “Get thee behind me Satan. You are stuck here in the realm of the human, not the divine!” Why does Jesus respond with such venom to Peter’s loving concern?
I once had a similar response to a friend’s loving concern: After three terrible years of waging war upon the cancer in her liver, my dear mother was approaching her death, weakened, tired and emaciated. It had became clear that her death would be a release from the shackles binding her to this ill fitting body. My friend Shirley told me that she was praying fervently for my mother and I thanked her. She went on to say that she believed in miracles and was praying for my mom to get well. I was dumbfounded. My mom’s death was imminent. I was praying for an end to her suffering, not through an extension of her life, but through a peaceful death. It was my mom’s time to die and we all knew that. My friend was stuck, like Peter, in the realm of the human. Mama was moving on to the divine.
Jesus knew that he had the cross ahead of him. He had suffering and pain ahead of him. He had death and resurrection ahead of him. He knew that his life would end horribly but here, in the crux of the Christian message was the good news. He knew that his suffering would bring him closer to us. Peter, like any good friend, wanted to spare him but Jesus knew that by suffering he would enter our lives in a much deeper way.
We have a God who became human and walked forward into Jerusalem, into great suffering. He would move from human into divine with his death and resurrection. Jesus yells at Peter with frustration because Peter still doesn’t understand the depth of his compassion for us.
Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that they too will have a very hard road ahead of them. They, too, will have to give up themselves and take up their crosses. They can only find life when they stop holding on so tightly to human things. He’s inviting them to join him on a divine plane. As God said to Abraham, Jesus says to his followers: “Trust me and I will bless you.”
Listen to Jesus: “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” He is giving us the road map: Deny yourself, take up a cross and follow me. Here is our covenant with Jesus. Abraham is told to be blameless. Well, Jesus tells us all we have to do is lose our lives! How do we do this? Be Christian. When our primary identity becomes “Christian” we have lost our old lives. We have let go of our former selves. Jesus is telling us to move away from human things toward the divine. He is saying: “Let Go, Let God.”
We cannot hold on to life forever. Neither could Jesus. In this reading he is making it clear that we must turn over our lives to God. Trust God and he will bless you.