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The Devil Made Me Do It

 4B Lent

9 Mar 2024

Based on Matthew 16:21-23

Lenten series based on Peter's journey as a disciple.

 


“Get behind me, Satan!!”  Wow! Jesus is not mincing words, is he?  Poor Peter.  I can see him cowering and his eyes getting wide; I doubt he expected this outburst from the man he was coming to love and to whom he had pledged everything. Afterall, do we want the people we admire to intentionally martyr themselves? But to call Peter the Satan seems a bit over the top, even for Jesus.

What if Jesus wasn’t directing his words at Peter, but rather at Satan himself?  That’s the problem with the Devil, Satan, the tempter, or our own egos (whatever name we give to our supposed wants.) 

Flip Wilson, as I recall, often said “The devil made me do it.”  But this was not your standard temptation, like getting into the chocolate when you know you shouldn’t.  This is the kind of evil that comes at you in the form of being led to believe you are doing the right thing.

Peter did not want Jesus to die; Jesus himself did not want to die.  Yet Jesus understood who he was and what must be done to reconcile heaven and earth, divine and human.  

No, Peter is not the devil in this story. I think he still hoped that Jesus was going to take up the sword against Rome, rather than carry the cross to calvary. By this time, he had been called and sent; he had seen miracles and he had heard Jesus define himself as the servant king.  All well and good. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen and heard things and yet still wanted to cling to what I wanted to be the truth, not what is the truth.  We play it out in things as simple as sports, when we refuse to belief our team lost, to the complex issues of the world, where we may choose to believe Russia will never invade Poland.

Peter has just witnessed the curing of the woman’s daughter and the healing and feeding of large crowds.  He knows Jesus has power; he knows that he as been imbued with power of his own. Jesus has formed a new community; he praised Peter for recognizing him for what he was and promised to build the community “on” Peter. Then, almost immediately, he predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection. And what does Peter do but pull him aside and tell him no way will that ever happen. Then Jesus snaps back with his famous reply. Jesus, the prophet, was expecting rejection, suffering, death, and then vindication by God, with all of humanity lifted up with him. Peter was once again, in the words of Satan, tempting Jesus to take and alternate course. But this is not the way it was to be; otherwise we would be reading about Jesus as a failed insurrectionist and the faith we have come to call Christianity would not exist.

God is in control and we are not.  I repeat: God is in control and we are not.  The sooner we get that into our hearts and minds the sooner the reign of God will come amongst us.

Lent is a good time to think about those things that distract us (shall I say bedevil us?) from truly becoming followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to take up our own cross.  That does not mean giving up things that bring us joy and pleasure, things that matter like family and community, but it does mean giving up our self-centered pursuit of success in human terms. Our expectations change with the time in which we live and our own experience, but I would hazard a guess most of us desire material wellbeing and comfort.

Jesus was having none of that and we see Peter today at the moment he starts to realize just what it will mean to take up his cross.

Of course you all know what happens next: the transfiguration!  Peter will once again will simply not get it.  That is why I glean hope from the story of Peter.  In my own way I am fumbling towards ecstasy.  Sara McLachlan composed a song by the same name.  A song of longing and desire, it is also one of misunderstanding and confusion.  Indeed, do we not so often stumble and fumble as we follow our deep desire to truly know Jesus?  As she says, “Through this world I’ve stumbled, so many times betrayed. Trying to find an honest word to find the truth enslaved. Oh you speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhymes….”

But it is ultimately not with words, but with our heart and with our deepest longings that we come to understand Jesus.  Jesus was the messenger who showed us what God’s love was like when it was made flesh.  We will never experience the Jesus the first followers knew; not even those who became part of The Way after Jesus died would know him in that way. 

What we can become, as followers of Jesus, are people who can stop being distracted by the temptations of the world.  We do not need to be people of worldly power any more than we need to try to be rich or famous. The peace of God rests on none of these things.

Let us then set our mind on divine things, deny those worldly goals, and take up our crosses. That is how we come to have life and have it abundantly.

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