You Can’t Have it Both Ways
A Meditation on Mark 8: 31 – 38
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop February 25, 2018 Grace Presbyterian Church
To be in need of intervention is not a sign of weakness; it is a reality of our humanity.
Mortality. Wilderness. Intervention. The mortality of Ash Wednesday. The wilderness of the beginning of our Lenten journey. The interruption or disruption of intervention.
Last week I spoke of vulnerability and said that I long for the day when an acknowledgement of vulnerability is admired as much as our culture’s adoration of strength. I also said this:
Our bodies can be both strong and vulnerable.
Our souls can be both strong and vulnerable.
Here is what I should have said. Our bodies can be strong; they will always be vulnerable. Our souls can be strong; they will always be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the reality of our humanity. It was the reality of Jesus’ humanity also.
It is the unnamed temptation in Mark’s gospel which Jesus encountered in the wilderness last Sunday: the temptation to throw off the vulnerability of humanity. Though Mark doesn’t let us in on the conversations that took place in that wilderness, Matthew and Luke do. The Evil One, the Adversary, dangled the alluringly less painful path of invulnerability before Jesus’ tired eyes, saying things like, “Why be hungry when you can change rocks into pita bread?” Saying things like, “why be powerless, when you can have the world on a platter?” “Why suffer the humiliation of execution when there is a pain free escape route?” When the adversary said all these things, Jesus said, “Get out of here! I don’t need you. I prefer wild animals and angels.”
Jesus knew you can’t have it both ways.
But that’s what the disciples want, or at least what Peter wants. Or maybe Peter is the only one with the impulsiveness to say it out loud. This group of disciples didn’t realize what they had signed on for. They were so amazed that someone wanted them, a rabbi wanted them – with all their messiness and brokenness – that they didn’t really think about what Jesus’ intervention in their lives would mean.
It would mean looking at the world as if there were no boundaries or dividing lines.
It would mean looking into the eyes of a foreigner or enemy and seeing a child of God.
It would mean losing the respect or support of the “beautiful people,” in this case, the religious leaders.
It would mean making heart stopping, frightening choices.
It would mean insecurity and pain.
Now watch as everyone moves to the back of the registration line…No wonder Peter took Jesus aside and “scolded him.”
Peter is so wonderfully human! Sometimes his social skills completely disappear and other times they are abounding. Thank you, God, for Peter! Peter the impulsive. Peter the embarrassed. Peter the liar. Peter the Rock. Peter the faithful. All those things and more. Peter wants to be a good friend to Jesus, and good friends sometimes have to tell us the truth. (“Hey, rabbi, I think you have a bit of olive stuck in your teeth…! Um, Jesus, is your tunic inside out?)
Peter loves Jesus so much he wants to have an intervention with him. He does it in a genuinely thoughtful way, too. Instead of being that annoying student in the class who knows more than the professor, and wants to prove it in front of everyone, he waits until class is over and asks the professor if he can have a moment of his time.
He takes Jesus aside, and repeats the words that the adversary said to Jesus in the wilderness. He says things like “You (we!) don’t have to be hungry! Turn stones into pita bread!” “You know you really don’t have to suffer, the angels will protect you if you ask. If you ask, they won’t even let you stub your toe, much less suffer death!”
I know Jesus sounds really angry here, but we read in to the text how we imagine Jesus speaking. The fact that he calls him “Satan,” leads us to assume he is angry. Not a bad conclusion. But what if it is more like this…those times when a parent or caregiver should be upset with the child for doing or saying something crazy, but they are actually trying not to laugh?” Jesus knows that Peter has good intentions. He knows that Peter is also afraid: afraid of losing Jesus, afraid of dying himself. Jesus hears the love behind the misguided message. Still, Jesus has to get through to him.
So Jesus says, “When did you become my enemy?” That had to hurt…
“Peter,” Jesus says, “why are you acting like my adversary? You are like Satan to me!”
It’s not Jesus who needs an intervention; it is Peter.
Sometimes it takes a shock to wake us up from our illusions, our denials. Sometimes it takes someone who loves us more than life itself to help us break free from our dependencies and fears. When we make God small enough to fit in a comfortable box of our own design, we need an intervention.
Peter’s Messiah-sized box was not only too small; it was misshapen. Peter – and his companion disciples – were still learning what God incarnate looks like. They had been reborn through his love for them, but they didn’t have the full picture yet. God’s intervention in their lives began when Jesus invited them to leave their old lives behind and step out in faith. The calling to follow was the first intervention, but there would be many more “wake up calls.” This life with Jesus wasn’t going to cushy and soft. They had probably figured that much out, but hearing that Jesus would be taken from them through injustice, that was too much. Jesus understood this. Throughout his time with them, he would intervene and disrupt and unsettle them over and over again.
What about us? Can you remember the last time Jesus disturbed you? That God unsettled you? That something about living this life of faith made you uncomfortable. I hope you can. The moment we realize that we cannot remember the last time we experienced God’s intervention, that is the moment we need to stop and do some serious reflection.
My husband tells the story of how God intervened in his life when he was a young twenty something. He had a good job, good friends, and money to spend. But he also felt empty. It’s a classic story. His parents had raised him in the Baptist church, he had been immersed in the baptismal waters as a boy, but he had left God behind at some point. At some point, he had just allowed God to slip away quietly. Because God doesn’t force God’s self upon us. Still God was present and waiting. So on a New Year’s Eve, when Lou was feeling especially low, low enough to be watching TV alone, just flipping channels, a preacher spoke to him. (It’s probably a good thing he was Baptist; he was much more willing to listen to a TV evangelist than I would have been!) God intervened in his life. Not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last.
The voice of intervention, the voice of disruption, whether it is a doctor telling you that you can’t put off that surgery any longer, or your family surrounding you and telling you that they are afraid that you are abusing alcohol or drugs or whatever; or that word from God calling you to let God break out of the little box in which you have put God…that voice is a shock. A jolt.
But when that shock comes, if we can run toward the voice, if we can hold ourselves steady and listen for what the voice is saying, we will hear that we are loved and worthy. That’s what interventions are about: love and worthiness. You are worth the work of rehabilitation. Jesus “shocked” Peter. He didn’t have a choice. Peter wasn’t getting it. Peter was so far off track that he thought Jesus needed an intervention. Jesus wasn’t trying to shame Peter, or offend Peter, but he was trying to shock him.
When has God shocked you lately?
Where are you experiencing discomfort? What is that feeling that won’t go away, that question that keeps re-emerging? Is God’s Spirit calling to you, working away at your resistance, that you might be renewed?
What about the world? We would have to have hearts of stone not to recognize the planet’s need for intervention. We say we are God’s hands and feet in this world, so we ask ourselves, where might God be calling me to intervene? How can I make a difference when it comes to our fragile planet, our systemic poverty, our violent ways? How does God want to intervene through me?
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hold on to the old life and claim to live the new one. We can’t claim to be Jesus’ disciple and then sit back and wait for all the other disciples to do the work. God wants to work both in us, renewing us through sometimes shocking, jolting words of intervention, and through us, to renew the world. One intervention at a time. No matter how many it takes. Because God never gives up, nor can we.
This is all good news, you know. It is good news. The voice of intervention is the voice that leads to life. It is the invitation to live into your vulnerability, to name it so that it doesn’t have to be your shame. Peter didn’t run off, abandon Jesus, too embarrassed by the mistake he had made. He stayed.
Let’s stay, too. Let’s never be too embarrassed or ashamed of our own humanity to run away. This is the place where we belong. This is the place – God’s house – in which the truth will set us free.
Thanks be to God, who loves us enough to shock us when we need it. Amen and amen.