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The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (8/30/2020)

Ps. 26; Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28.

Merciful, Peter began to rebuke [Jesus], saying, “[May God be] merciful to you, Lord! This will surely not be to you!” (v. 22).

The crowds compared Jesus to the prophet Jeremiah (Mt 16:14); but Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. On Peter’s witness Jesus would build his Apostles’ full-grasp of his identity (16:16, 18). Nevertheless, the assessment of Jesus as “a Jeremiah” is apt.

Jeremiah “ate” God’s word in joy; then lamented the negative word given him to preach, making him a hated man. Jeremiah’s pain was so intense, that like Job he accused God of duplicity, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you [O YHWH] be to me a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (Jer. 15:18).

God did not explain himself to Job for his travail; but rebuked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4a). As for Jeremiah, God promised that if he exited his sea of doubt, he would strengthen him as a “fortified wall of bronze” to withstanding the adversaries of his word (vv. 19, 20).

Job and Jeremiah were prophets of Jesus, God’s Suffering Servant. Both asked the “theodicy” question, “Why does God permit bad things in the life of ‘good’ people; what justifies a righteous, merciful, and omnipotent God permitting evil and suffering in the lives of ‘good’ men and women?” Today Jesus as “Christ”, began to open the heart and mind of God.

Jesus is not just another prophet; as “Christ”, he is God’s unique and obedient Son in place of ancient Israel. Jesus began to unpack “the theodicy”; revealing the revolutionary thing God was doing in his reign, bringing his church into existence grounded in a New Covenant.

As “Christ and Son of God” Jesus must travel to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious authorities, be killed, and rise on the 3rd day. This was astonishing news, every bit despised as Jeremiah’s message that God would deliver Israel into Babylonian hands.

Coming out of heaven Jesus had “eaten” his Father’s word with joy; yet according to the “ways of men”, Jesus’ unexpected Messiah message was neither victorious nor glorious.

From Peter’s perspective, suffering death of God’s Christ at the hands of ancient Israel was the ultimate evil from which God could not be vindicated. Peter now stood in the line of Job, Jeremiah, and JB lamenting Jesus’ “inadequacy” as God’s Christ.

Jerusalem was the “Holy City”, its temple was the place of God’s residence from which all mercy on earth flowed; that God would permit his Christ’s passion and death in Jerusalem, as Jesus now taught, was unthinkable.

Peter stopped being a follower; he moved-out ahead of Jesus, rebuking, “[May God be] merciful to you, Lord! This will surely not be to you!” The Pharisaical “leaven”, of which Jesus warned, permeated Peter’s heart and mind to contradict his Lord.

Peter’s rebuke of Jesus displays the chasm between, “the things of God” and “the [mind] of men” (16:23b). At the very moment Jesus taught the age-old theodicy question, Peter left the rails of God’s word; from church icon to blind-guide espousing “the things of man”.

Peter was no longer “Petros, solid witness; instead he became a stumbling stone in Jesus’ path. Jesus’ word had scandalized Peter (Mt. 16:6, 12) as the woman preferred Satan’s word, that by eating the forbidden fruit “[she would] not surely die” (Gen. 3:4).

Peter stepped out of his role as disciple; insinuated himself, a super-apostle, vicar and counselor of Christ. Jesus calls Peter “Adversary” (16:23) for his hinderance, casting his newly minted “Petros” out of his path; “Get behind me Satan” (v. 23a); returning Peter to his follower position, equal and one with the apostolic body, a learner of the “things of God”.

Peter, and now you and I, live in a fallen world defined by the decay of death. On account of sin mankind has accepts entropy’s progressive decline as God’s final word. Accordingly, we orient ourselves for a life of attaining power and ease. We give “tip o’ the hat” to the inevitability of the grave, “dust…to dust” (Gen. 3:19c).

Our sinful mentality is that as long as “God agrees with our accommodation to the primacy of death; then he is welcome as our God when we pray for “better times”; but absent God’s acquiescence to our prime assumption of death’s inevitability, we fight every contrary word; as Peter scolds Jesus, “[May God be] merciful to you, Lord! This will surely not be to you!

The office of “Christ” is not informed by death’s inevitability; rather the singularity of being “Son of the Living God” (Mk. 12:27); the God who kills and makes alive (Deut. 32:39b), who creates out of nothing; destroying death and the grave. This is God’s work in Christ on the cross and in the Resurrection.

The glory and mercy of God is located nowhere else than in the flesh of his Son. All who are joined to Jesus’ atoning death die in him, and in him are made eternally alive.

Baptism radically alters the false assumption of death’s primacy, permitting us to live grounded in a glory that follows Christ in sacrificial love.

Jesus is “Christ” who suffered, died, was buried, and rose again for all; the one good man (Mt. 19:17) and “Son of the Living God”. In him we have atonement for sin to employ God’s love in our lives (Rom. 12:9-21).

By Scripture’s promises, our NT assumption is Life, not death; we are freed to enter the suffering and fears of others (Mt. 25:37-40); to endure tribulation in hope and prayer without anxiety.

The place of God’s presence and mercy with men is in the flesh of Christ; there we experience “the things of God”. As at Gethsemane, we pray with Jesus the Father’s will be done (Mt. 26:42) and live a cruciform life given his Son for us.

St. Paul describes the cruciform life, neither eschewing nor fearing suffering, “Let love be genuine (Rom. 12:9a); let it be the love of Christ. When looking to others, not ourselves, we see the Son of the living God working through men, answering the “theodicy” question.

In times of distress we seek to save ourselves from disaster and travail in a world coming undone; and prudence dictates that we should. But we who are informed in “the things of God” must not miss God’s call to serve the destitute and grieving with “genuine love”, his word in Christ.

If we ask, “Why does God permit bad things to occur in the lives of ‘good’ people?” from “the mind of man”, we are impelled to avoid “bad things” at all cost for a life of power and ease; to which Christ says, “for what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt. 16:26).

On the other hand, if we look to the heart and mind of God in Christ then we know righteousness and mercy to be the primary “things of God”; a Life graciously given for a new assumption with St. Paul, “O death, where is your sting?” (1Cor. 15:55b). Amen.


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