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Jeremiah 15:15–21 | Romans 12:9–21 | Matthew 16:21–28
Lord, you KNOW… remember and visit… LORD, YOU know.
I want to talk about the gospel today because what Jesus says here is so important, but for some reason the words that really struck me this time are from the prophet. As I thought about this, I was struck again how much emotion comes off the page in the prophets—especially Jeremiah, who is called “the weeping prophet” (Jer. 9 “oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears”) because, well, it’s hard to be the naysayer: The one who risks his life (and he is eventually thrown in a pit for dead) because God chooses him—even though he’d rather not—to tell the truth and name what’s wrong in society: Which is hard to hear… Basically, around 600 BC., we hear that God’s people weren’t respecting one another per the Commandments. In Jer. 7, they didn’t “act justly with one another; they oppressed the alien, the orphan, the widow and shed innocent blood.” Which was all tied up with not worshiping and listening to God—but going after their own interests instead. But now it’s the beginning of the end: As he predicted, the shaky foundation falls when Babylon shows up—the end of Israel as they knew it for the next 2000 years.
It’s interesting today that we hear Jesus use the word “Satan”—an idea which has grown out of proportion to its actual airtime in scripture. It’s a word said exactly the same in Hebrew as English—satan—and means Accuser or Adversary and is only a personal noun once in the OT. (Poets Milton—1600s, Paradise Lost and Dante, The Divine Comedy—1300s popularized the idea.) The idea of a cosmic adversary for God is developed late in biblical history—and rare—and in the gospels, “Satan or the Greek version, Devil” and “Satan’s Kingdom” at issue is not the fire that is mentioned once or twice, but whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty or ministered to the sick. All of which helps us focus back on what matters: The problem—as pointed out by the prophets and highlighted by Jesus—happens in the sphere in which we live: As Jeremiah names it, it people and the systems that we create that cause suffering. Paul in Romans names the antidote: "If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” It will confound the whole system of us vs. them. It will stop the cycle of hate and evil with goodness. “Satan” can be overcome that easily?
That is, when I am overcome, feeling despair, I need those words Lord, you know. Remember and visit.
Before we get to Jesus calling Peter “Satan” we remember the other time he has words for “Satan” when he was is in a tough place in the wilderness. Satan’s role is “tester” here and Jesus gets to face head-on the three worldly “programs for happiness” that can never work, but that we keep trying anyway. Here’s what the Adversary says to him—and to us.
Jesus, just make the stone into bread. That is, use whatever you can to procure for yourself safety and security.
Throw yourself down from the temple in Jerusalem for a big effect. That is, attract affection and establish esteem. People will like you and believe you now—no matter what you say.
Finally, forget about what God wants- bow to the basest way of gaining power and control. Dominate and coerce.
“Away with you, Satan,” says Jesus. And now, to Peter “Get behind me Satan.” That is, Peter—too—wants Jesus to be the same kind of Messiah that Satan in the Wilderness was holding out: Resourceful, flashy, powerful. Jesus—many months after the wilderness, has shown what the alternative for people and systems can be: Rather than hoarding bread made from stones to relieve his own empty stomach, he’s fed the hungry multitudes; rather than shoring up his own identity, he’s brought healing and worth to the sick and marginalized; rather than seizing control of the government, he’s used his power to lift up the lowly. God’s kingdom of mercy and justice—one that has staying-power that we can only begin to imagine. Instead of getting caught up in the human “programs for happiness” that consume us, Jesus has kept his heart with the heart of God that knows what we really long for: Jeremiah: “Lord, you know. Remember and visit.”
They really are “sabbath” words: Ones that acknowledge God is God and we are not. Ones that help us to constantly shift our way of seeing so that what Jesus says and does begins to make sense: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it (26). For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” And yet we try. This is our adversarial nature. But like Oscar Wilde said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” In other words, Jesus sees that we all lose in this set-up. Something different needs to happen: Now. And God is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.