Friday, March 6, 2009


This week’s readings give us a chance to consider the world of expectations…..perhaps even GREAT Expectations ! We all have them…some of us moderate our expectations to avoid disappointments. Some of us have out sized expectations about particular things. This year, I will take enough golf lessons to correct my slice ! If I get enough sheep manure on the tomatoes, I will finally have the biggest ones in the neighborhood!

The problem we run into in the today’s Gospel is that Peter has a plan – Great Expectations – which is why he is so alarmed when Jesus begins to explain reality. Peter has been thinking that this Messiah will be the leader that frees Israel from bondage and oppression. We hear that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man…this is a much less exalted title than Messiah …and this sets up the conflict of expectations between Jesus and Peter…

Some scholars believe that the phrase “then turning and looking at his disciples” means that Jesus suspects that the group put Peter up to this. Certainly possible but Peter was always ready to jump into the middle of things on his own volition !

Peter was a good Jew and had reasons for thinking this way. The cultural expectations of the Messiah were that this messenger from Godde would free his people as Moses did the Hebrews. Even overthrow the oppressor and establish the reign of the Almighty, if not on earth, at least in Israel.

And what Jesus was saying was, once again, counter cultural…..the Son of Man, which is a modest term, would be made physically subject to the oppressor and die. The followers of the Son of Man would be subject to oppression, trials and death. This isn’t a campaign slogan that attracts the masses. Peter was acting as the PR guy for the campaign here, and that wasn’t the message he wanted to get out…

But Jesus was acting on truth in advertising ….if he didn’t know he would die at the hands of the authorities, he was no fool, and could see where this ministry was leading him. He would not only upset the status quo, but he would also not fit the military leader role that the messiah was culturally expected to fill. He would disappoint on one hand and be in deep trouble on the other.

The conflict here is about power. The natural human expectation about the great leader is that he/she will make everything right. Fix the current situation and make the oppressed free, maybe even put them in charge ! And, what’s more, many humans in leadership are willing to take on those expectations of being the fixer. Follow me – I’m in charge and I will make it all better ! Jesus and Peter are talking about 2 different kinds of power and we are still trying to get a handle on the kind of power Jesus was talking about. Christian spirituality has yet to plumb the complete depths of this kind of power…it has been easier to just go with the old models of hierarchy and control. If you are faced with the choice of signing on with the triumphant army, or struggling with the nuances of being a servant, which appeals to you ?

I’m not suggesting the human nature is innately inclined toward the easy choices – we are made in the image of Godde and that is a complex model. Our opportunities to make these kinds of decisions are lifelong and very complicated. We are attracted to organizations that make us feel safe – this is where the oft repeated statement “My Pastor said that….” without critical analysis of what he said. That is giving power to a role that makes people feel safe and that is very attractive in some peoples’ faith journey.

But we are called to listen…..both to our human experience in the light of faith, and our own inner voice. The power that Peter wanted so badly to see take over isn’t a power of discernment. The power of discerning what we are called to do and to be – listening carefully to the voice of Godde – is not of the moment. It is a lifelong commitment to pay attention and hold many things in thoughtful tension.

The call to truly deep spiritual growth isn’t avoided by changing religious paths…Buddhism, for example, calls for shutting up and listening to a much greater degree than Christianity, at least outside the monastic tradition. It’s hard to escape the call to depth for people who are drawn to spiritual development. And Lent is a perfect time to be present to those opportunities…

Wishing you a Holy Lent..