Behold Peter the Saint:
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16: 13-18)
Behold Peter the Satan:
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16: 21-23)
Father Ken had a great sermon this Sunday about Peter, the Twelve's Bumbler-in-Chief. In back-to-back readings, Peter goes from blessed to cursed. He starts as the rock, the one strong and solid enough to build a church on, and ends up as the rock, the thing you trip over on your way. Jesus is setting out his mission, which includes leaving the familiarity and relative success of his homeland, Galilee, and traveling to The Show -- the dangerous city of Jerusalem, the den of his challengers, most learned opponents. Not to mention those with the means to have him silenced permanently. Jesus needs to bring his message to the highest representatives of his people. He knows the message will not be well received. Peter seems to think that everything will go well, and that no chump's reception will meet his teacher. But Jesus knows better than to give in to false optimism. He does not go to Jerusalem because he will succeed. He goes in spite of the fact that he knows he will fail, at least in the eyes of his opponents.
Father Ken's take? Stay on mission. When you are called to something, don't let work, fatigue, family obligations or the sheer impossibility of the task deter you.
We live in a world of obligations. We have mortgages, college loans, cars and bills to pay. We feel the limitations of church and society -- not to mention our own physical and mental limitations. We have family "obligations" -- whether a weekly meal or a holiday get-together -- that pull us out of our orbits. We have parents, kids and grandkids who need us. But how about our obligations to our integrity? How about our need to fulfill our God-given mission to look outside of ourselves, to serve those in need?
I don't have a definitive answer for anyone, least of all myself. In Jesus' day, the world was more stark and the necessities more urgent. The world was about to be upended in catastrophe! Jesus was able to tell people to leave their wives, children and jobs to follow him. He could tell a man to skip his father's funeral, or a rich man to sell everything her had. Though some turned him down, many accepted his offer, including Peter, who abandoned his job to follow Jesus. Who knows how his wife and mother-in-law survived his absence? (Though we know that his wife accompanied him as he preached after the Resurrection -- 1 Corinthians 9:5).
In our day, it's harder to see ourselves making the radical abandonment that Jesus asked of his disciples. But in the morass of obligations that make their demands on our time and energy, maybe we can be a little more careful about what we do spend our time on. Will I be late for work if my son calls me on my cell phone as I am heading out the door? Will I risk having people skip my Easter dinner if I don't go to their Christmas gift swap? Am I going to a wedding only to make sure my kids have "family" at their weddings?
Which of my obligations are done to guarantee that unloving people love me back? And which obligations make me stronger, make love deeper and let me use my gifts for the betterment of all?
Maybe it's time to distinguish between rocks and rocks -- the rocks on which we build lives of love and service, and the rocks that just trip us up and send us sprawling in the dust.