Who do you go to for advice? The Gospel reading depicts Peter as someone who is trying to give his dear friend some good advice.
When Jesus said he would suffer and be rejected and killed and then rise again, Peter took him aside for a reality check. What friend wouldn’t? The other disciples looked up to Peter they probably saw him as a sort of “handler” for Jesus. Peter was expected to keep their Messiah in line so he wouldn’t get all of them killed. Peter and the other disciples wanted Jesus to be politically careful so they could make their move at the most opportune time.
This announcement that Jesus expected to suffer and be rejected by the Jewish hierarchy and be killed would of course put Peter on edge. In today’s terms, he probably would have told Jesus, “Don’t be so negative, we can do this the right way and put you in power. You’ve been healing the sick and possessed, you have crowds of people following you and no one would have the nerve to kill you. But if you continue to talk like this, your prophecy could be self-fulfilling. We need to be more careful and everything will be fine. You are the Messiah, after all--no one can touch you.”
We don’t know what Peter said to Jesus or how he rebuked him. Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus. Peter had given up work and family to follow him. I guess he didn’t hear the crazy part about rising again after three days. But, that was crazy talk after all.
Last week our Gospel reading mentioned Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Now we hear Jesus accuse Peter of tempting him just like Satan. Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah and suffering, rejection and death don’t fit with the disciples’ ideas about what that means.
So why did Jesus react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke? I think Peter was putting into words the very things that were tempting Jesus. Jesus did not want to die. Peter’s words echoed Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. Jesus knew he needed to do this God’s way.
There is a lesson here in this story of Peter rebuking Jesus and the way Jesus responds. Sometimes it is a dear friend or family member who will try to convince us that what God has called us to do is not the right path. It’s not just offering sweets to the dieter or alcohol to the alcoholic. Well-meaning people who are concerned for your safety can give you bad advice.
This is a problem. I like confirmation from others that my calling is the right course for me. I want those I ask for advice to pray and consider and let me know what they think. There is another problem. I am sometimes the person who gives bad advice. Sometimes I look at things from the human perspective instead of thinking about what God wants. I hope I am not the only person that people go to for advice--they can weigh their options that way. These sorts of lapses in judgment are a result of our need to protect those we love.
There are times we must place ourselves in harm’s way, there are times we must do things that take all our time and there are times that we need to do things that make us uncomfortable. There are times when we get worn out and used up. William Barclay wrote that it is better on any day to burn out rather than rust out from disuse.
I can’t imagine nor do I know how different Jim’s and my lives would be if we had stayed in Indiana after he graduated. It was hard for our families to see us leave with their grandson. Jim’s dad told us they would never visit (they did eventually come after ten years). The week before we left was the first time Jim’s parents took our son for some time without one or both of us along. They found out too late how much fun he was.
I think by moving away from what was familiar we grew together in our faith. We were forced to rely on one another and the family we created at church to raise our children. This body of Christ trained us in spiritual matters. We went on retreats with them, we camped with them and prayed together. We traded babysitting on weekends so we could get away as couples. I visited them in the hospital and prayed with them before and after surgeries. I was visited in the hospital and helped to put on my slippers so we could go see the new baby. It was a mutual relationship of support and caring.
I don’t know that we would have done all that we have if we had stayed in our Homeland as Natalia called it. Spiritually our move to Washington State has been a good choice for us.
So why follow Jesus? He was brutally honest about how hard it would be. His honesty is startling. No one who reads this Mark passage could claim he or she followed Jesus under false pretenses. To take up a cross was the same as saying you will be seen as a criminal and you will die. In that shameful death was the glory. Jesus came not to make our lives easy but to make us great. He asked no one to do something he was not prepared to do himself. That is the sort of leader people will follow. Jesus said if you want to be my disciple then deny yourself. Keep your mind focused on the divine rather than the human. If your actions are self-seeking and self-willed, you are acting outside God’s plan. Along with Paul we can say that it is no longer us but Christ living in us that determines our actions.
For whom are we saving our lives? If you have a talent and save it for later or when it is convenient to exercise it, you may find you have lost it. If we don’t exercise a muscle, it won’t be there when we want to use it later. I would have a terrible time trying to apply the calculus I haven’t used for years.
We could spend our lives like the desert fathers and mothers and fill the day with prayers. Or we could be like the martyr Telemachus who decided after a period of time praying, meditating and fasting all in the hope to gain his own salvation that he should go out and serve humanity. He should go where there was sin because those are the places that have the most need.
He went to Rome. Rome was a Christian city and he arrived during a triumphal entry by a general named Stilicho. Stilicho and the Emperor Honorius offered prayers at a church and then everyone moved to the arena because though Christians were no longer sacrificed for enjoyment, the conquered people were still forced to fight as gladiators in Rome.
Telemachus couldn’t believe the so-called Christian general and emperor and the Christian subjects in the Coliseum were happy to see these poor, conquered souls forced to fight one another. Jesus had died for the men who had been conquered--how could Christians sit back and watch them slaughter one another? Telemachus leapt over the barrier and stepped between the gladiators. Telemachus was still dressed as a monk. He was pushed aside but he stepped in again. The crowd began to throw stones at him. The commander of the games gave the order for Telemachus to be killed and one of the gladiators struck him dead with his sword. The crowd went silent. With one mind the crowd was horrified that a holy man had just died by the sword. And they also realized it was horrible that anyone should die for others amusement. The games stopped and they never started again.
Telemachus could have saved his life by staying in the desert. He might have lived a long time. But his life was useless to God. Telemachus gave up his life to point out an injustice to the people of Rome. He stopped a practice that was harming the souls of those who watched it. He stopped a practice that destroyed the lives of the gladiators.
Barclay might be right. God gave us our lives to spend and not to keep just as Jesus came to pour his life out for us. If we make no effort except to increase our own comfort and to prolong our own lives, we are losing our lives. If we spend our lives in service to others, if we can find comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and the people for whom he died, we are winning life all the time.
What would happen if no one ever took a risk? If no one ever moved West. If no woman wanted to take the risk to give birth. If no one wanted to risk ocean travel. If no one was willing to go to Iraq and teach children like Jeremiah Small did? If no one was willing to see the humanity in our enemy’s face? What would happen if we all spent all we have on ourselves alone?
The essence of life is in the risk of living and spending our lives. We can’t save our lives. If Telemachus had consulted a friend before leaping over the wall, he might have been dissuaded from doing so. “This is the way it has always been, these gladiators are our conquered enemies. Why do you care if they live or die? You could be hurt and God wouldn’t want you to be harmed.” I’m sure there were some who tried to dissuade Jeremiah from going to and returning again to Iraq. But like Telemachus, he could see the faces-the humanity of the people he was hoping to help.
We will get tired when we give the most we can give--our lives, our time, our energy and our emotions but it is still better to burn out than to rust out. By burning brightly we will find the way to God.