Scripture for the second Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 17.1–7, 15–16; Psalm 22.23–31; Romans 4.13–25; Mark 8.31–38
Anyone undertaking a serious walk should pay attention to their footwear. It’s a good idea to know the kind of journey that lies ahead and to prepare properly. The reason that we wear appropriate footwear is, of course, because someone else has gone before us. Someone who has learned the hard way that to walk long distances means either having good footwear, or very sore feet and nasty blisters. We benefit from following in their footsteps, as it were – often, footsteps of pain.
It turns out that Peter could have used some advice about the sort of journey he and the other disciples were going to be making with Jesus. He really doesn’t seem to have prepared himself with the right footwear – metaphorically speaking. He might have done well to listen more carefully to Jesus’ description of the journey that lay before him and his disciples.
Instead, having just been commended for discerning Jesus’ true nature, he seems to have created his own idea of what that meant, to the point of voicing anxiety and dismay at Jesus’ words of warning and preparation. Jesus then started to unravel the imaginary castle in the sky that Peter had constructed around that identity. All Peter really wanted was for things to turn out well, but Jesus took the opposite tack, and told them all that things would turn out anything but well! And then rebuked Peter severely for contradicting him.
To our ears, the words, “Get behind me, Satan!” sound very harsh – yet to Hebrew ears, the words have a different depth of meaning. The word “Satan” means “accuser,” or “adversary.” In effect, Jesus was not telling Peter that he was some sort of devil, but rather he was warning Peter that he risked placing himself between Jesus and God’s purpose as an adversary, in the same manner as the “accuser” Jesus had faced in the wilderness.
Most of us have at least one adversary that keeps us from following the way of Christ. The names of such adversaries are varied: anxiety, doubt, fear, pride, addiction, anger, greed, insecurity, even hatred. Lent is a good time to get to grips with these adversaries of ours, naming and confronting them, and making a concerted effort to follow the way of Christ – even though it may lead us to the cross, with its pain, before reaching resurrection. Only by confronting those inner adversaries, Satans, can we avoid being an outer adversary, Satan, to the way of Jesus.
Unlike Peter, we have a lot more knowledge of where the journey of Christ leads. We have been given signs to follow, starting with those same disciples, led by Peter, who were confused and anxious, inadvertently placing themselves in the role of adversaries. The experience of those who have gone before warns us to beware of our own inner adversaries and accusers, too.
We should equip ourselves properly and choose wisely when following Jesus’ way – and not the “primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.” There is a time to wear flip-flops, and a time to wear walking boots.
The path that Jesus invites us to follow is a long journey, tough underfoot, and requires sturdy footwear. Are we willing to follow him?