Yesterday we looked at the high and hard calling Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount for those who would follow him. Later on in Matthew’s Gospel a private conversation is recorded between Jesus his disciples. Jesus first asks them what the crowds of people are saying about him. Once they’ve given him the latest complimentary gossip, he puts them on the spot: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15b)
Simon Peter boldly responds, “You are the messiah, the son of the living God.” This in turn evokes a blessing from Jesus, who declares that this insight came to Simon directly from God in heaven. He calls Simon “Petros” (Peter), which means “rock”, and says that “on this rock I will build my church.” (16:18)
It’s a high compliment for sure; the only instance in which Jesus declared an individual to be “blessed.” In the very next paragraph, however, Jesus calls Peter “Satan”; again, the only instance of Jesus calling a human being the Great Tempter. Jesus was talking about how he had to suffer and die in Jerusalem, and when Simon Peter tries to persuade him that it wasn’t so, Jesus loses his temper: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (16:23.)
Peter represents the church; you, me and the Pope. Though blessed and called to do Christ’s work on earth, we also are his betrayer.
The four Gospels vary quite a bit. If you examine them, it will be obvious that Mathew, Mark and Luke come out of the same tradition. Though they have significant variations in the way they tell the story, they have a great deal in common. John’s Gospel, however, arises from distinctly different tradition, with relatively little in common with the other three.
There are very few stories that appear in all four Gospels, and as such it is all the more remarkable that the following story is recorded in dramatic detail in all four: On the night Jesus is arrested, Peter lingers out in the courtyard as Jesus is taken inside the house of the high priest to be interrogated. Apparently it is cold, and Peter draws near to a fire that the servants of the high priest have built. In the shimmering light of the fire, three separate times Peter is recognized as a follower of the man arrested inside, and each time Peter denies any knowledge of Jesus.
It’s pretty shameful, and you might think that the story would have gotten edited out of the Gospels somewhere along the line. After all, if Peter represents we who would follow Jesus, we don’t come off too well, to say the least. Apparently the Holy Spirit was determined that the church not have any “skeletons in the closet.” It’s not that we don’t have “skeletons”; it’s just that they belong out in the open for all to see.
It’s only out in the open that the shame can be healed. In AA they have a saying, “Your only as sick as your secrets.”
Loving God, we would bring out of the shadows our shame and guilt, that we might know the new beginning your forgiveness creates. In Jesus’ name. Amen.