Thursday 22 February 2024

Something To Get Behind

I don’t think Jesus was really one for name calling, but sometimes he just has to call people out for their behaviour.

“Get behind me, satan!” Jesus says to Peter. (Mark 8:33) Seems like a bit of a slap in the face, especially for one of his key followers, but Jesus had good reason. He’d been talking about what’s ahead for him: the suffering, the rejection and death and the resurrection after three days, basically predicting the future. In Peter’s defence, it was pretty dark stuff. So Peter tells Jesus to stop talking like that. “You’ll scare people off,” I imaging him saying, and it’s demoralizing for the disciples who’ve already given up their lives to follow him. Nobody wants to follow someone to death, especially someone who teaches love, grace and kindness. If that’s what you get for living that way, well, you can see how Peter might think Jesus could spin it a little more positively. Besides, that isn’t the way Peter hopes the messiah is headed.

But calling Peter the devil, that seems a little harsh. Maybe it is. And maybe he didn’t. 

I think it’s easy to assume Jesus was annoyed with Peter and that he’s telling Peter to get out of the way, that he’s just as threatening to Jesus’ ministry as the devil. But we assume that tone. Satan is an ancient Hebrew term that can mean a legal adversary, a questioner or accuser. In this sense, it’s not inherently evil, nor is it destructive. So, first of all, maybe Jesus wasn’t doing anything more than pointing out that Peter was questioning what he was doing.

But even if he was suggesting Peter was doing more than that, what if we didn’t read this as Jesus telling him to get out of the way, but rather to get onside. Get behind me and back me up, Jesus could be saying, bring your questions, bring your criticism, even, but bring it to my mission and follow me. Because he has more to say about following him.

What if we heard Jesus then tell Peter (the tester) to start thinking differently. Open your mind to what’s really true, Peter, what’s really important in life and stop thinking the way human beings usually do. Think beyond your personal comfort, think beyond the stuff, the power and the certainty that comes with control of things. Open your mind and your heart to what life really is about. Otherwise, you won’t understand this next bit: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Let go of the stuff we associate with this life, the things like wealth and power, and pick up kindness, compassion and love. Those are the things that are life-giving. The Jesus I know would never invite anyone to suffering, brokenness and death. He acknowledges the struggles of life and sees so much of it in his ministry, but his response is always love and life. That’s what he wants Peter to get behind.

If you want to follow me, take up your cross, he says, and follow me (Mark 8:34). I don’t think he means the instrument of pain and death, but the individual challenges each of us may face in living the life of Jesus in the world. Love, compassion and grace aren’t always easy, whether it’s loving others, loving ourselves or even loving God. But the world is changed when we do and I, for one, could really get behind that.