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The Time Peter Got It Right... and Then Didn't -- Matthew 16:13-25 (4th Sunday of Lent)




Artwork: “Who Do You Say That I Am?” by Lauren Wright Pittman

used with permission via A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org



How can someone get it so right, and then just a couple minutes later, get it so wrong? Peter has been travelling with Jesus for some time now. He’s seen things; he’s experienced things, he’s learned things.


So, when Jesus asks this question – “Who do you say that I am?” – Peter is ready. And he nails it. Whatever metaphor you want to use: He knocks it out of the park. 100%. A+. 10 out of 10.  Jesus confirms it: “Blessed are you Peter the Rock. On this Rock, I will build my church, my community.” Peter gets it so right.


But then, there’s the rest of the story. Jesus goes on, “Exactly, Peter. Just what you said. And it is necessary that I must go into Jerusalem; suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders; be killed; and on the third day be raised.” And to Peter’s response: “No way! Never! That will never happen!” Jesus says, “Get behind me satan. You are a stumbling  block.”


How does Peter go from foundation rock to stumbling block in less than a minute? How can someone get it so right, and then just a couple minutes later, get it so wrong?

        

As we wrestle with that question this morning, let’s first (1) think some of where we’ve been with Peter, (2) what Peter gets right, (3) what he doesn’t, and (4) what Jesus does with all that.[1]

        

We’ve been travelling with Peter for a while now – even before we set out on our Lenten wander. Remember, we were back in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is just starting out, and he goes to Peter’s family compound.[2] Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and in bed. Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her up, whole and strong, and their house becomes a center of healing as folks who are hurting come from all over to be made whole.


At Transfiguration, we stood with Peter as he sees and experiences something of God in Jesus, and then stumbles and fumbles his way toward God.[3]


In the Gospel of Luke, we read that story where Jesus and Peter go fishing, and together, they bring in a miraculously abundant catch, and Jesus calls Peter into relationship – to help Jesus gather even more people into community. Jesus calls him into the work of turning the world rightside up.[4]

        

For a few weeks now, we’ve been in the Gospel of Matthew – where in the midst of the powers, Jesus is bringing about a Brave New World. We’ve seen Peter engage Jesus’ teaching – asking the hard questions. Last week, the disciples were at sea in a storm.[5]Jesus walked on the water toward them; called Peter out; and Peter walked on the water toward Jesus – and then began to sink, only to be raised up by Jesus. And as Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples confessed together: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Peter has seen some things with Jesus, lived some things, learned some things.

        

And, so, in this morning’s Scripture – not too long after the walking on water – Jesus turns to his disciples, and asks them some big questions. With all they’ve experienced as they’ve wandered with Jesus, let’s see what they’ve been learning along the way. Jesus asks them:

        

Who do people say that the Son of Man is – the Son of Humanity?

        

They answer with the names of prophets – John, Elijah, Jeremiah, maybe another prophet. They get that Jesus is a prophet, one who is announcing what God is doing in the world – the things that must come to an end, and the things that are coming to life. Yes, a prophet, and, there’s more. So Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter says:

        

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

        

In that one sentence, here’s what Peter gets right: You are the Christ, the anointed One of God, sent to be God’s agent in the world, to do what God does. You are the One who is bringing to life God’s Brave New World, even as the crumbling Old Order grinds on. You are the One, come to save us from everything that does us harm.


AND, Peter says, you are the Son of the Living God. Now, the disciples have already said this one together – after Jesus walked on water. Peter says it again: You are the Son of the Living God – so closely entwined with God as to embody what God is doing in the world – you are the fullness of God, all wrapped up in our humanity.[6]

        

That’s what we see in the artwork that was up during the first part of the Scripture reading. This is by Lauren Wright Pittman, and it’s all there.[7]





·      In the bright gold of the light, there is the radiance and presence of God. 


·      In the monochromatic part, the artist has put symbols of the prophets on Jesus’s robe – a partial answer to Jesus’ question.


·      In the section in full color, Peter’s robe has symbols of a Rock. Jesus’ robe has symbols of the Christ. If you look closely, there are jars of anointing oil.


·      In that band of full-color light, Jesus and Peter see each other.  Jesus gazes on Peter, and Peter gazes on Jesus.


You are the Christ. You are the Rock.


Peter has seen a lot, and learned a lot – and in this moment, he gets it right. As Peter gazes up at Jesus, it reminds me of that line from Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing“Praise the Mount, I’m fixed upon it.”


But what comes next – what comes next – makes us wonder: what if Peter is fixed upon the wrong Mount; what if Peter is fixed on the wrong Christ – the wrong vision of Christ – the wrong vision of what it means to be Christ. What if he doesn’t really, and fully, see Jesus... yet.


Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Living Son of God” is an important, decisive moment in the Gospel. Peter has summed up what he – what we – have learned so far. A wise friend said to me this week, “It’s like Peter has just completed his internship” – and now we see what still lies ahead to learn.


From that moment on, Jesus begins the next teaching. “Yes. And it is necessary that I must go to Jerusalem; suffer much; be killed; and on the third day, be raised.” And Peter says: NO. No no no no, Jesus. No. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. You can’t be that human.


Peter imagines a Christ who knows no suffering, who knows no death. Peter imagines a Christ – a Messiah – who will sweep into this world, and like a victorious conqueror – set right all that is wrong. The problem with that – well, one of the problems with that is that it leaves very little room for us – for our agency – we’re not involved, except as spectators. And, it imagines a Christ who doesn’t really enter into the fullness of what it is to be human.


If in Christ, God is entering into the fullness of humanity,

you can’t have Christ without the suffering,

you can’t have Christ without the controversy,

you can’t have Christ without the dying,

you can’t have Christ without the resurrection,

without the sinking, and the raising up,

and you can’t have Christ doing all this alone.


Peter’s is an incomplete view of what it means to be Christ,

and an incomplete view of what it is to be fully human in Christ.[8]


Peter is so right, in part, and at the same time, so wrong.


Or maybe we could say it this way:

Peter has learned so much, and still has much to learn.

        

But before we look at what Jesus does with all that, maybe we should first ask, Why does all this matter? Why does it matter what Peter gets right, and what he gets wrong?  

Well, it matters – because who we say that Christ is – who we say that God is – it shapes who we say we are, who we become, and how we live in the world. We’ve said before: We become like the God we image and worship.[9] We say that we are made in the image of God. And so it matters how we image God. I think when we talked about this before, the example I used was – If we image God as a vengeful, punishing God, we’ll see ourselves living in a vengeful, punishing world, and we’ll miss out on all the forgiveness, love, and grace. And we’ll play that out in our lives – we’ll work ourselves into that image.


For this morning’s scripture, let’s think of one end of the spectrum. If we image a world without a God or with a God who doesn’t care, we’ll see ourselves set in this world alone – alone with the powers – in a world of separation and striving.


On the other end of the spectrum, if we image a God – a Messiah – as Peter does – who is all-powerful, but above the fray – who will fix all things – but who can’t possibly ever experience suffering and death, we don’t leave any room for our own agency in the world – for the part that we get to play – the good work that we have to do, as an integrated part of what God is doing in the world.


Jesus says to Peter, “You are right, Peter. I am the Christ. And it is necessary for me to enter into the fullness of life; to go into Jerusalem; to suffer many things there at the hands of the religious leaders; to be killed; and on the third day be raised again.”


This is what it means to be fully Christ,

fully the Son of the Living God.

This is what it means to be fully human.


So, what does Jesus do with all that Peter gets right, and all he doesn’t?


Jesus blesses Peter. Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah.


Jesus affirms that what Peter answers – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God – is a Word from God, spoken from the mouth of Simon Peter.[10]


Jesus gives him a new name – Rock – and says that on this Rock – Jesus is building his community – God’s Brave New World.


Jesus gives Peter the authority to say more – to learn more, and to say more – about who Jesus is.


Jesus graduates Peter from his internship – from Jesus 101 to Jesus 201 – and Jesus opens the next learning: It is necessary for me to suffer, and be killed, and be raised.


And notice this, when Peter sputters and falters – No way never – Jesus corrects him, but doesn’t take any of that away.


Instead, Jesus invites Peter to learn more – to experience more – to travel on with Jesus – into the fullness of life – into the suffering, into the experience of life and death and the rising again – into the fullness of what it is to be human. It’s not an easy invitation – pick up your cross, and follow me. But Jesus invites Peter – invites us – to move together into the fullness of what it is to be human, with and in Christ.[11]


We started out this Lent – with our Wandering Hearts – considering the question: Who is this Peter?  Remembering what we’ve been told. We’ve wandered along the way with Peter and Jesus, and here we are considering the question: Who is Jesus? It occurs to me that those are not unrelated questions. Who is this Simon Peter? Who is this Jesus? As one writer points out, these are relational questions: Who are they in relation to each other?


When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” – implicit in that question is its corollary: “And who do you say you are, Peter, in relation to me?”  Who are we together?


With all that Peter gets right – with all that Peter has learned – with all that Peter has yet to learn, Jesus says: Let’s travel some more, and see.


For this Lenten season, we have given ourself permission to wander – with Jesus, with Peter – to travel with our Wandering Hearts. We are well into our Lenten journey now, and Holy Week is within sight – just two weeks away. So maybe it’s time to pause on this Wander, take a deep breath, and think about where we are heading – with Peter, with Jesus – together.


And for the next few weeks – the questions in this morning’s Scripture – maybe we can claim them as our own – as questions we carry with us as we travel even further with Peter and with Jesus – as we enter into the Jerusalem of Holy Week. Questions for us to claim as our own:


1.   Who do I say Jesus is?

2.   Who am I in relationship to that Jesus?


As we move toward Palm Sunday, and as we gather for the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and then go into the Garden of Gethsemane; in the experience of the cross on Good Friday, and the silence of Holy Saturday, and, then in the deep dawn of Easter morning. As we experience all that together, maybe we can hold these questions:


1.   Who do I say that Jesus is? Who do you say that Jesus is?

2.   Who are we in relationship to that Jesus – who are we in relationship to the Jesus we experience together along this wandering way? [12]




© 2024 Scott Clark




[1] For general background on this text and the Gospel of Matthew, see M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,”  New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. viii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), pp.343-50;

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, Commentary in Connections, Year A, vol. 3 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp.258-60; Alan Culpepper, Commentary in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, vol.2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), pp.14-19; Terence Lester, Commentary in Wandering Heart Lenten materials from A Sanctified Art; Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Lance Pape, Commentary in Connections, Year A, vol. 3 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp.260-61; Herman C. Waetjen, The Origin and Destiny of Humanness (San Rafael, CA: Crystal Press, 1976). 

[6] See Pape, pp. 260-61

[7] See Lauren Wright Pittman, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” Artist Statement in Wandering Heart Lenten materials from A Sanctified Art, offering the artist’s insight into their work.

[8]  See Boring, p. 349, emphasizing the Greek word dei, meaning “it is necessary” or “must,” as an expression that what Jesus says here is essential and indispensable to an understanding of what it means to be Christ.

[9] See Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn. Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1994)(Kindle Location 66).

[10] See Waetjen, p.172.

[11] See id. (“He will join Jesus in manifesting the life style the Creator intended for authentic humanity.”)

[12] See Diana Butler Bass, Finding Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (HarperOne, 2021), encouraging consideration of “the Jesus of experience.”

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