Monthly Archives: August 2017

For example – Peter

Peter’s great recognition of Jesus as the long-promised and expected King (Messiah) is a turning point in each of the first three gospels (Matthew 16:13-20).  It brings into the open – though only for the disciples at first – the most important truth.  For us, who sometimes think “Christ” is Jesus surname, we wonder at the significance.  (Christ is actually the Greek form of the Hebrew “Messiah”, literally anointed one, so King).

We might see its importance for us by looking at Peter.  Peter was a tough fisherman, who took time to take Jesus seriously, and then personally. Luke tells us how (Luke 5:1-10), after Peter lent his boat for Jesus to preach from, a big catch of fish taken by following Jesus’ instructions led to Peter’s admission of sin and failure. Jesus doesn’t go away as Peter suggests, but commissions him as a fisher of men.  Freed from the guilt of his past failure, Peter is also freed from being “just a Galilean fisherman”. He becomes a leader of apostles.

Many Christians have found the freedom of faith liberated them. Some were aware that guilt crippled them, and forgiveness made new life possible. Others concentrated more on the acceptance and dignity that God gave to lives lived in difficult or demanding circumstances. No one else might know or care what happened to them, but if God did, they could walk on, and walk tall.

Peter’s trust in Jesus wasn’t just an escape from guilt and a limited life. It brought his a freedom to serve.  At Caesarea Philippi, he recognises Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fulfilment of what the OT looked forward to – and he has the courage to say it.  (Of course, he hasn’t become infallible – his next line will be mistakenly telling Jesus that he doesn’t need to suffer!).  This is the pivot of the gospel because it makes clear that Jesus is Lord.  Not just a teacher, explaining a theory, nor just a miracle worker.

Again, after Jesus Resurrection and Ascension, Peter has seen James arrested and executed.  But he is set free by an angel (Acts 12:1-12). He won’t escape execution for ever, but he has years of service to give first, travelling, teaching, telling the world about Jesus.

Perhaps the freedom to serve is something we are not so good at.  We want to be free from things that limit and diminish us, but are not so good at understanding what use to make of our freedom. Peter shows us how a life in Jesus’ service might indeed be the intended use of freedom.  If the picture we get from Peter is freedom from sin, guilt and the limitations of a small life, it is also of freedom to serve, grow, and for him to be a leader and pioneer.  Peter is a good example of Christian life!

Racist?

Was Jesus a racist?  It might not be question you would ask, but imagine a journalist today picking up Matthew 15:21-28 as a news item!  Jesus has come out of Jewish territory – perhaps deliberately for a bit of peace – and seems to ignore a woman asking for help. Worse, she is described as “Canaanite” – the name of the corrupt pagan tribe the Israelites had displaced during the conquest of the Promised Land.

This is not casual prejudice.  Jesus had sent out his 12 disciples (Matthew 10:5,6) “not .. to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns . . to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.” The first call was to the people God had chosen for a special purpose – not all peoples were equal!  There was a reason, of course.  It was not some “superiority” in this nation, but the fact that their history should have prepared them for Jesus and his mission.

It is clear Jesus was not hostile to foreigners –  in Matthew 8:5-13, we had read of the healing of the (Gentile) Centurion’s servant, and Jesus’ comment on his faith.  Here again, we have, after hesitation, and conversation, healing of a “foreigner”, and at a distance.  I suggest the problem is not in Jesus’ behaviour, but in our question. If we fail to think, we assume Jesus must match up to our standards. In fact, the reality is the other way, and we must understand and adapt to his.  It is from his teaching and example we get the value given to other humans, including those of different race, language and culture.  All are valued by God, and the Christian gospel, preached first to those prepared by their history, is open to all.

At the same time, different cultures, like individuals, are not the same. Israel was chosen by God for a special job, and the gospel had to be preached first to them. The centurion, and this Canaanite woman, anticipate a later stage when all may come by faith to Christian faith – and there remains a distinction between those who do, and those who do not. Christian, and non-believer.

The fight against racism is a Christian one, reflecting the understanding that every human is made in the image of God, and is of value to him. None are to be dismissed or devalued.  But that does not mean that all cultures are of equal value – nor that ours is all good. There are parts of our culture that are thoroughly rotten. How do we judge them? Against common opinion? No. Against the standards of Jesus. If we lose the ability to tell the truth, that is bad. If we fail to care for the weak and helpless, that is bad – by gospel standards. In the same way, other cultures may need correction, not because we say so, or in comparison with “British” ways, but against the standard of Jesus.

Jesus wants to announce God’s Kingdom to his chosen people first – and that is right. If a centurion and a Canaanite woman are given faith to anticipate the situation after Easter, Matthew will record that to show his church how all are accepted by faith – but not to suggest that all people and all cultures, let alone all creeds, are equal.

I hope that you do stand against Racism, and make the effort to bridge the gap of language and culture to strangers. I also hope that you realise that cultures, and individual actions, are not all of equal value, and to be weighed not by the popular opinion of the moment, but by the teachings and actions of Jesus. Weigh actions by Jesus’ standard.

Surfing for fun?

Matthew 14:22-33 might be a Victor Meldrew story – “I don’t believe it!”, if it wasn’t for the fact that some of those who were there and told it were experienced fishermen.  Jesus walking on the waters of Lake Galilee made a big impact on a group, some of whom had worked it for years.

In telling the story, Matthew is making clear the power Jesus has, even over “natural forces”.  It reinforces the same point from the Feeding of the 5,000 (last week’s reading, if we hadn’t replaced it with the Transfiguration for 6th August).  Both raise questions for the modern reader – but the ancient reader must also have wondered “How?”.  Not having a clear answer should not lead us to the mistake of saying, “That can’t happen!”.  I have the same response to some modern physics, which I also don’t understand clearly.

So we are invited to reflect, in a culture where Jesus is often seen as a “good man” or a “teacher of spirituality”, on Jesus in Charge, Jesus with the creator’s power over creation.  The power Jesus holds is difficult for us to get our heads round.  He refuses to coerce people, even to ensure his own comfort or survival, yet is able to do awesome things.

But that isn’t the only significance of this story.  Peter goes for a walk.  Not for long – but long enough to discover that with Jesus’ permission he can walk on water, but that he frightens easily and needs help.  (He gets help, and everything is all right).

It is not just about Peter.  Discipleship is learning.  One part is to know something about how special and important Jesus is, because that is basic to our understanding, and also our motivation to live as Christians.  The other part is to learn how we are going to do what Jesus does. [compare Mark 16:17-18].  We may not be as good at it.  We need confidence, but confidence in Jesus and not in our own ability.  But as disciples we are learners, both of theory (about Jesus) and practice (“walking on water” – whatever form that may take for us).

With a story like that, why is it so easy to be sure there is nothing we need to do, or even nothing we can do?

 

[There is also a dialogue sketch on this passage – see http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/dialogue-sketches/index-of-dialogue-sketches/matthew-1422-33/ ]

Reality

This Sunday we leave the sequence of readings from Matthew to read a strange story for 6th August (Luke 9:28-36) – 3 disciples seeing Jesus all lit up, and talking to 2 Old Testament characters from long before. What is it all about? Does it matter?

It starts before this of course with Peter recognising Jesus: “You are the Messiah!” (Luke 9:20). Messiah? – The promised King, the one who would put everything right, who would bring all God’s promises true!!!

It’s true. Jesus is that person – but it’s not going to work the way the disciples expect. The Great King will win his place by dying on a cross.  It’ll be a shock and a disappointment to the disciples, but they really need to know this is the best way – this is God’s plan. So a week later they see Jesus in heavenly glory, discussing his “departure” (the Greek is “Exodus”) with Moses and Elijah, representing all the Old Testament hopes and promises Jesus will fulfill. And to underline it, a heavenly voice says  “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” v35

They are not allowed to stay and enjoy the experience for long – they have to get back to the journey to Jerusalem, and the cross. Later, they will remember, and understand. [There is a point there about Christian experience. The nice ones are not for prolonging and repeating, but for preparing us for better service.]

Do you think this has anything for you?  Jesus is the Messiah / the Great King / the one bringing all God’s promises true!  We like that bit, and prefer to forget: Jesus wins by sacrifice. Only by allowing himself to be killed, and rising to life again, can he win. And he invites us to be his friends and followers, saying that some of the same things will happen to us. We may not always enjoy being Christian.  Doing the things we are told to do may be difficult, unpopular, and hard. But it is the way to get things right, the way we find God’s promises come true.

[I’m sure Peter could have imagined things turning out another way – and took time to understand it was not going to happen like that, and for good reason. We also need to understand that God has to be in charge].  I like to think I know better. It isn’t really like that, I don’t really need to . . . And I need to read this story again and listen to that heavenly voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”