16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he mustδεῖ (dei) it is binding, it is necessary, it is proper; it is inevitable, go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering πάσχω (paschō) at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me,ὑπάγω (hypagō)ὀπίσω (opisō)Satan! You are a stumbling blockσκάνδαλον (skandalon) a trap-spring; a stumbling block, anything against which one stumbles, an impediment; a cause of ruin, destruction, misery; a cause or occasion of sinning, scandal, offense, cause of indignation, to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Hearing the good word God has for us, & understanding today’s gospel reading, is as I indicated last Sunday, dependent hearing these two halves of this story, dispersed over these individual successive Sundays, together. They belong together & are relevant to understanding the other. As i said last Sunday, who we confess Jesus to be has practical implication for how we live our lives as his followers.
As usual it is worth our while paying attention to small, seemingly unimportant, details in the text, like the physical location. That Jesus says these things in the district of Caesarea Philippi (16:13), literally in Caesar’s town, on Caesar’s turf has implications. Jesus who has been declaring the advancing reign of God against the usual status quo of the empire currently in charge, now on Caesar’s very bailiwick, prompts the declaration that he is not just any prophet of old, but the very Anointed, Messiah, a title with political implications! And Jesus importantly in today’s reading clarifies specifically just what kind of Anointed Messiah he understands himself to be. A Messiah who repeatedly defaults to & demonstrates compassion, & will not evade but who embraces his role as passionate/suffering servant. And consequently, who’s followers, readily embracing similar such crosses, are destined to have a world-shattering political impact. Who we confess Jesus to be has practical implications for how we live our lives as his followers. Following the Anointed has political impact!
Several small words help us get a handle on & understand today’s reading. In the first verse Matthew tell us that Jesus understands his passion bound trek toward Jerusalem & what he anticipates awaits him there as absolutely necessary. After this, confession of his identity “Jesus began to reveal to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem & undergo great suffering.” The word Matthew uses is (Greek: dei) it means, “It is necessary”. It is binding, proper/appropriate, inevitable. Jesus is resolved to accomplish his Abba’s will, come what may. Jesus trusts Abba, despite apparent circumstances, is in control. Despite threatening resistance from his own. Despite threatening storm(s). Despite his closest not completely understanding & getting it. Jesus trusts unfaltering in God. This resolve gives hitherto unknown significance & meaning to suffering, all suffering. By identifying his self-understanding as a compassionate, suffering-with, God-Anointed Messiah Jesus suggests suffering is not, (n)ever, pointless. All human suffering is necessarily redemptive. Disciples, followers, are invited to likewise embrace this conviction.
The next words in the text that invite our consideration are those immediately following Jesus’ seemingly severe castigation of Peter. First it is worth noting that these are a parallel of Peter’s confession last sunday. Last sunday Jesus ascribed Peter’s confession, “You are the Anointed!” to Divine inspiration, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (16:17), whereas in today’s text Jesus ascribes Peter’s contrary major blooper to the Adversary! But lest this fabulous faux pas distract out attention the really important saying that could easily be eclipsed by the celebrity precedes; Jesus literally puts Peter in his place, Jesus says (hypage opiso mou,) “Go behind me“. This is not the first time Jesus has used this expression (4:19, 10:38, 16:24). Even though it may at first, due to the volatile context, seem harsh, this is actually good news for disciples like Peter, & each of us.
Being behind the pioneer, the vanguard, is a good place to be. Jesus is indicating he is out in front embracing his role as suffering-Anointed, willing to take the brunt of great suffering. We disciples=followers, safely in his wake, are inevitably necessarily upon the same path, & we practice suffering-with = compassion discipleship as we profess his Lordship in our lives.
The last word Matthew uses that invites our particular attention is that which Jesus uses to describe what he expects to encounter in Jerusalem whence he’s determinately bound. Jesus expects his πάσχω (paschō). Jesus anticipates “great suffering”. But it is also the word most christians (our English being the impoverished cousin in this case) use to describe the Resurrection event, Easter, “PASCHA”. This is a much richer word than ours, because it carries in it both the unabashed profound reality of suffering, but also the potential promise of “and on the third day be raised” (16:21).
In “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Matthew’s Jesus breaks the 4th wall & speaks aside directly to us too. Because the Living God’s Beloved Anointed Messiah has not remained aloof, remote, but has deeply & fully embraced the depths of our human suffering, including death itself, shaking the powers to the very core, & God has vindicated this faithful trust, we can dare to also follow in his wake, engaging our world in practical discipleship.
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
the Reverend Brian Heinrich