Rebuking Jesus

March 4, 2012      Rebuking Jesus              Mark 8:31-38

Can you imagine rebuking Jesus?
Can you imagine actually pulling him aside in the middle of a lecture; in front of the whole class; and rebuking him?
Can you put yourself in Peter’s shoes, being with Jesus throughout his ministry, being there when he fed four thousand people with just some scraps of food, being with him when he cast out demons, being with him when he calmed the weather itself with just a word…
Can you imagine being there, seeing people turn out in droves just to glimpse and hear this great teacher.
Can you imagine spending your days and nights with Jesus and the others, getting to have him all to yourself from time to time, just you and your small group of close friends.  Sharing meals together, going deeper with each other; and soaking up the full reality of Who He Was….and then pulling him aside to rebuke him for something he was saying?
Can you imagine rebuking Jesus?
The image that comes to mind when I think of the word “rebuke” is of a parent or other adult slapping a child’s hand when they’re reaching out for something they shouldn’t have.
And so, I read this passage like Jesus is getting his hand slapped by Peter.
It makes me a little bit uncomfortable for Peter.
It’s like Peter’s saying “Don’t you know better, Jesus?”  “That’s not for you.”
“All those things you’re talking about; the suffering, and the rejection, the pain and the death; that’s not for you!”
You can almost hear Peter saying “Look Jesus, we’ve just been over this!  You’re the Messiah!  You’re the Christ!  Enough with this nonsense about suffering and rejection.”
All you have to do is look back to verse 29 to see that Peter did in fact know who Jesus was; he knew the secret Jesus was trying to keep.
Peter had the knowledge.
But it becomes clear as the story unfolds, that knowledge and understanding are two different things.
Peter had knowledge.  He knew all the right answers…and that was the problem!
And when you know all the right answers, you’re generally very quick to rebuke people who think differently.
Isn’t that true?
We get tired of people who have all the answers, because we get tired of being rebuked, right?  The only way to have a conversation with someone who knows everything is to rebuke them right back, isn’t it?
To give them a dose of their own medicine; that’s the only way they’ll begin to hear you.
You see this unfold in politics all the time.  All the two parties do is rebuke each other.
And it’s even worse in an election year.
All the candidates know the answer to the country’s problems; and so they rebuke anyone who doesn’t share their point of view.
It’s true in Politics, but it’s true socially, too.
People who are asking the wrong questions, or arriving at different answers than the social body don’t last real long in free society.  They get rebuked.
For example, the people who ask “why shouldn’t I kill?”  “Why shouldn’t I steal?”  “What’s wrong with lying?”…we rebuke them through incarceration, because they’re asking the wrong questions, or I should say, arriving at the wrong conclusions.  (at least that’s how we justify incarceration).
Finally, it’s true in our religion.  Maybe it’s even more true in our religion than it is in our politics or in our social system.  We rebuke those who disagree with us.
We’ve come to see Jesus as the ultimate answer; the One who gives our lives meaning; the One who solves all our problems; provides certainty amid uncertainty and safety when we’re insecure.
And so, we rebuke the ones who acknowledge their uncertainty, or the ones who are insecure.  We might tolerate questions for awhile, but our goal is to get those questions answered and move on.  If not, we’ll eventually rebuke the questioner.
…and in so doing, we rebuke Jesus as well.
So really, what Peter is up to in this passage really isn’t all that strange.
It’s been happening for at least as long as there have been politics, religion, and social order.
He pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him.  He slaps his hand, because Jesus is upsetting the whole system Peter’s got going on.
After all, what kind of world would Peter have left, if the Messiah himself has to suffer and be rejected and die?
It might be the kind of world where everybody has to experience suffering, and rejection, and death.
Can you imagine such a world?  🙂  (wink wink nudge nudge)
The full reality of a world where suffering and rejection and death are normal parts of life; I think that’s what was too much for Peter to handle.
We all tell ourselves stories where suffering and rejection and death can be avoided, you know?
We paint these images on the outside, and we present this face to the world that we have our lives together, that it’s all turning out according to plan.
It’s a really difficult lesson to learn that that isn’t how it’s going to go down after all.
Learning that your hopes and dreams may never come true; that’s difficult.
For example, it took me a long time after college to finally find a sense of meaning in life.
My reality during those first years out of school was fairly dark.
I thought I knew what I wanted, I had taken out several thousands of dollars to gain the education to help me get what I wanted, and nothing was working out.
I was in debt, I was newly married, and the only work I could find was cleaning toilets and mopping floors.  It wasn’t a bad job as jobs go; but you don’t need a college education to do it.
My life wasn’t working out.
And yet I covered over that as best I could in public.
We call it “saving face”.  “I’m in transition” I’d say…or “I’ve got some good leads I’m checking out”.
At first I thought those things were true.
Nobody really wants to admit the failure of their plan.
Nobody wants to live into, or embrace the full, unfiltered pain that life brings our way.
We’d all rather avoid it.  So we create these stories to shield ourselves from the truth.
Peter and I have this in common; we both try to convince ourselves and other people that our story is the real one…that the story we hold in our heads is the truth.
We sell ourselves on the idea that our lives are heading somewhere great…that “God must have something better in mind” when the job doesn’t work out, or “I must have something to learn” when the relationship falls apart.
These ideas are crutches; they’re coping mechanisms to help us avoid the full reality that life is hard.  This is where we do use religion as a crutch; a tool to help us accommodate our pain rather than feel it.
And what Jesus does in this passage is the same thing he continues to do; that is, he kicks the crutches away.
What Peter knew, was that Jesus was the answer to his life’s goal; which was liberation from Roman Tyranny.
He knew that Jesus was the answer to all his world’s problems.
But the bigger problem was that Peter’s world was too small.
Jesus refused to let himself be co-opted into Peter’s narrow view of how a better world would look.
Jesus refused to be his crutch.
He refused to be seen as the answer; as the kind of Messiah who could live above the world; who could live without suffering, and rejection, and death.
His path did not transcend the pain; it marched straight into it, with no excuses and no filters.
On the cross we hear the full embrace of our common experience; My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
His pain is our own; only magnified.  The forsaken cry Jesus sends up to an empty heaven echoes within our own empty souls.
And mysteriously, that’s where we find the resurrection.
Not in fleeing from our pain; but rather in facing it, embracing it full-on with no safety net of family, friends, or religious certainty.
Jesus wasn’t speaking in Riddles.  He knew what he was talking about when he went on with the crowds, teaching that anyone who wants to follow him would have to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him there…into the pain…into the world in all its brokenness…not away from it.
That’s what separates the Christian from other religious people.
Not our transcendence of death; rather our embrace of it.
Not our rejection of the world; rather our embrace of it.
Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Jesus and the sake of the gospel will save it.
That’s still true, it’s not just a quote for your wall or journal.
Have you ever been afraid of something, and so you try to avoid it?
I think I told the story about the school bully awhile ago; There was a bully in my school, I was kind of afraid of him, and one day I punched him in the eye on the playground because he was picking on a friend of mine.
And then I ran away as fast as I could.
I know there are stories where that happens, and the two who fought become close friends.
That wasn’t my story.
From that day forward, I was even more scared of that kid.  I was afraid of him trying to get even.
We were in the same school for a number of years.
But from that point on, I’d try to avoid him in the hallways.  I went to great lengths to make sure we were never alone together.  It was kind of a game I developed.  I was always on the lookout.
I was actually more imprisoned in seeking freedom from that kid than I would have been in just approaching him and seeing what would come.  I was seeking to save my life, and I lost it; at least a little bit.
Too often, our certainty; even our religion, can be used as a way of keeping safe distance from the school bully.  That’s not really freedom.  It’s really a kind of prison.
What sets followers of Jesus apart from all other worldviews ought not to be the easy answers that we sell; but rather our embrace of the mystery.  Not our avoidance of discomfort or pain, but rather our ability to walk with it!
Selling certainty is easy, because almost everyone is in the market for answers.
But Jesus comes so often as a question, especially when we think we’ve got it all figured out.
Face the pain, the trials, the rejection…whatever difficulties you’re experiencing; face them!
Face the bully.  It’s scary, it’s difficult, and you cannot know what will happen.
But it’s there in that mystery where comes the resurrection.  

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