As we enter the second week of Lent it might help to keep in mind that Lent is a period of forty days starting on Ash Wednesday and continuing until Holy Saturday – just before Easter Sunday. It is not by chance that the number of days is forty… this is the number of days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism.
Now if you are a stickler for details, you might notice that there are not forty days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, but rather forty-six… How can that be? Well long ago, when the Church was expanding the length of Lent, a controversy arose regarding Sundays… Every Sunday, you see, is a celebration of Easter – the greatest feast we know. But Lent is meant to be a time of penance and fasting… So, what to do with the Sunday Feast? And a crafty solution was found. Sundays may be “in Lent”, but they are not “of Lent” … And there are 6 Sundays in Lent. That gets us to 46.
It’s sort of a way of having our cake and eating it too – during Lent. Sometimes people wonder about having a “cheat day” during the fast of Lent… but you don’t need any cheat days… that’s what the Sundays of Lent are all about. So, enjoy yourself on this second Sunday in Lent…
But before we go too wild… it is still the season of Lent.
Last week we were contemplating Jesus at the time of his baptism. And the baptism is followed by those all-important forty days of temptation and deprivation – our basis for Lent.
This week we are in the midst of Jesus active ministry – the time between Jesus’ baptism and his crucifixion. It is a remarkably short period of time. The exact length is not known, but scholars seem to think the time was between 1 and 3 years… For perspective, we’ve been in COVID lockdown for just over a year now. Jesus’ whole active ministry might have fit into lockdown…
Perhaps we might reflect on lockdown as a very extended period of Lent… We’re not out of the desert just yet, but as tiring and frustrating as it may be, our faith continues to see us through.
In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus was facing temptation at the hands of Satan. And in this week’s reading Jesus is facing temptation at the hands of Peter… or is it Peter… Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.” We tend to hear this as a rebuke of Peter, but perhaps it really is a rebuke of Satan.
Jesus tells us that Peter has set his mind on human things, rather than on Godly things. Is that Satanic? Let’s dig in.
If Mark were recording his Gospel today, he could have peppered it with emojis… those little computer graphics that we see in emails, Facebook posts, twitter messages, and such. Then we would know the emotional state. Little smiley faces, or sad faces, angry faces, or faces with little hearts for eyes… There are so many emojis that there is a whole website dedicated to their interpretation called Emojipedia… It would seem that the whole range of human emotion is captured in emojis, except that emojis don’t really capture any human emotion… Still, Mark might have made use of them…
Jesus rebukes Peter and says “Get behind me, Satan – ?…” Perhaps Jesus was taunting Peter for being too serious. “Get behind me, Satan – ?…” Perhaps Jesus is disappointed that Peter is living with fear rather than faith. “Get behind me, Satan – ?…” Perhaps Jesus and Peter are sharing an inside joke. Perhaps Jesus has given Peter a new nickname… We just don’t know.
When we don’t know in scripture, we tend to assume that it is very serious – which leaves us with a stern and humorless Jesus. I suspect that Jesus had a pretty good sense of humor. I even believe Jesus could be quite lighthearted and funny. But without emojis in the text, who can be sure…?
Let’s look at the context of today’s reading – perhaps some clues lie there.
Jesus has been telling the disciples how he is to die. We know the story. It’s horrible. The Roman Government had all sorts of ways of putting people to death. Some of them were rather quick and painless. But of all the methods, crucifixion was the worst – by design. It was a blend of execution and torture meant to maximize suffering. It was meant to humiliate the victim and let them die a slow agonizing death. Jesus knows this is what is coming. And this is what he has been telling the disciples.
Peter gets alarmed. This little band of disciples is struggling to hold it together. They need a pep talk. Jesus is not helping.
The disciples, those who look to Jesus as Messiah, had a very specific set of expectations. Messiah has a known purpose. Messiah will come and set God’s people free from oppression. Messiah will come and wipe out the Roman armies. Messiah will come and be the greatest military leader that the Jews have ever known. This is what some expect of Jesus. And Jesus is destroying that illusion. There are no emojis for this…
Peter appears to be telling Jesus off. You can’t talk like this… you can’t upset the disciples this way… What do you think you are doing?
In this context we will not meet lighthearted Jesus. But I don’t think we meet angry Jesus either. I suspect that this rebuke from Jesus to Peter is mostly sorrowful. Jesus’ time is running short, and the disciples still have such a flimsy grasp of what he is trying to teach them. How can they possibly be ready to go on with Jesus gone?
But perhaps Jesus is really talking to Satan, not Peter… When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness it is with unlimited food – which is tantamount to unlimited wealth; it is with unlimited power – the ability to rule over all the kingdoms of the earth; it is with unlimited life – he can even through himself from the highest tower and not be killed.
And here is Peter telling Jesus that he can’t talk about being killed because he is Messiah – great, powerful, invincible. This is, essentially, the same temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness. Jesus might have thought he had all that behind him, yet here it is right at his side. Get behind me, Satan. Give me back Peter.
The temptations of Satan involve illusion. Following Jesus involves the shattering of illusion. The power that Satan offers is not true power, for true power involves shattering our whole notion of power – becoming servants. True immortality involves shattering our notion of living this life forever – the path to eternal life involves dying. This is what Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples. And here is Peter, perhaps with the best of intentions, calling on Jesus to help maintain the illusion.
In our modern times many people live with the illusion that following Jesus will yield an easy life, a life of wealth and power. I heard a televangelist once proclaim that God loves us very much and wants each of us to be very rich.
l believe that God loves us very much. And God wants us to have each day our daily bread. And God certainly does not want any of us to live in poverty. But we have known since at least the time of the prophet Micah that God wants us to love mercy and walk humbly. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the sorrowful, the peacemakers.
In the village of Luss, on the shore of Lock Lomond in Scotland there is a public meditation area created and maintained by the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland… these two parts of God’s church are not always the best of friends… In this meditation garden is a plaque that reads: “Lord, when the power of your love overcomes our love of power, then the world will know peace.”
Satan is always creating the illusion of power and calling us to it. But by Satan I don’t mean that guy in red with the pitchfork who lives in hell… Satan is part of me… lives in me… Satan gets to live in my mind rent free, as they say… That doesn’t make me bad, it makes me human. It makes me like Peter. It makes all of us like Peter.
But the power of God’s love can overcome the darkness that lives within us – bit by bit and day by day. And in that way, we, like Jesus, can put Satan behind us.