Despite being the closest of friends, Jesus and Peter didn’t always get along. One day there was a disagreement between the two that resulted in a public rebuking of Peter. The situation started when Peter responded to Jesus’ teaching of how Jesus would be mistreated and killed. Peter rejected Jesus’ stark prediction and pulled him aside to tell him so. Jesus would have none of this, which is why he used an accusation of “Satan” against Peter (Mark 8:33). Ouch! Jesus escalated the situation by calling the crowd and declaring to them that anyone who wanted to follow him had to deny self. Peter must have been grimacing on the sidelines as he felt Jesus’ striking words.
It’s interesting how the editors of scripture didn’t censure the troubles Jesus encountered with his small cadre of followers. It remains an eye-opener that even between Jesus and his friends disagreements threatened the group from within. This makes all the centuries of conflict and controversies between subsequent generations of Christians less surprising. The essential nature of spirituality precludes enduring agreement. The highly subjective and speculative nature of religious topics generates conflicting perspectives.
Another of today’s themes is that of sacrificing for the sake of spiritual health. True discipleship isn’t cheap. Some pious souls claim to hear a call to give up everything for God’s sake. Today’s story of the rebuking of Peter is no exception. Jesus seemed to be calling for radical commitment. Jesus’ argument seems to be directed against reluctant followers (including Peter) who were not willing to sacrifice everything. Jesus wanted absolute devotion even if it meant loss of life. Today, we’re likely to label anyone making such demands as a cult leader. No doubt that some of Jesus’ critics did the same (and still do!). Yet, the call for dedicated discipleship continues as a salient reminder of how we organize our priorities.
As scripture depicts Jesus, there’s little doubt that he was hostile toward half-hearted followers. A key controversy in the church is just how much of a true believer you must become such that you will be accepted by God and go to heaven. Some twist the allegiance from God to the Church, such that you end up serving an institution in less than or in place of God. Again, we must clarify our values and adjust our priorities.
Should you be willing to kill and be killed for your theology? We’ve seen how religious-inspired terrorists conduct mass-murder by flying airplanes into buildings, beheading captives, raping & butchering women & children and so on. We rightly reject such horrors as not justified by any legitimate religion. The conviction with which some terrorist acts are committed emphasizes the power of self-deception and toxic faith. Murderers try to justify crimes against humanity because they think God wants them to. Such justifications are total nonsense because our loving God doesn’t condone atrocities. No wonder that some critics conclude that one person’s religious rights are another person’s demented destruction.
Jesus’ call to aspire to something greater than yourself remains valid, even in the wake of horrendous crimes committed by false followers of God. We all have a limited physical life that will expire. We’ll also lose connection with all the possessions we’ve gathered. Yet, do you fear what you might find if you ask yourself how much you are willing to sacrifice for your faith? We must remind ourselves of the permanency of our souls, toward whose health we can sacrifice the fleeting fancy of worldly wealth and ease. Yes, we must de-emphasize what is impermanent (e.g., physical things) for what is permanent (our spirits/souls). How you choose to do this will reflect the uniqueness of your life and the beauty of your discipleship. God wants us to choose wisely, such that we choose following God as we receive and share love and truth. –Reverend Larry Hoxey