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Jesus, Peter and us

May 25, 2017

I came home from Bible study last night to find my wife watching a “breaking news” report from Montana.  I was a bit surprised as most New Yorkers have only have a vague notion that Montana exists somewhere “out west.”  What could be bringing Montana to the news here?

I learned that there was to be a special election for Montana’s one and only congressional district and last night, on the eve of the election, the Republican candidate had apparently decked a reporter who was asking him questions he didn’t want to answer.  The reporter’s take was that he was just doing his job when he was “body slammed.”   The candidate’s version was that the reporter had “aggressively” put his microphone in his face and he was just pushing it away when the reporter grabbed his wrist and pulled the hapless candidate down on him.  In addition the reporter was a “liberal” which I assume was seen as a mitigating circumstance.

As it turns out there was another news team in the room and they later issued a statement that seemed to basically support the reporter.  In an ironic twist they were from Fox News.  It was gratifying to see left-wingers so enthusiastic about a Fox News report.

By this morning there was an inspiring united reaction of outrage among left-wing and right-wing sources.  Who says we can never be unified?  Of course the left was outraged by what the candidate did while the right was outraged at what the reporter did but I suppose being outraged together is a step in the right direction.

I’m not sure what I am supposed to believe about this but I would have to admit that reporters probably can be obnoxious and are also much more likely to be obnoxious to Republicans than Democrats.  Having said that it is probably not a good idea to beat them up, that won’t end well.  But for some reason the whole matter has me thinking of Jesus and Peter in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before the crucifixion.

They both see Judas coming toward them leading a gang of armed men. Jesus sees Judas in the middle of the pack but his only reaction is to say, without a hint of sarcasm.  “Friend.  Do what you came here to do.”  He does not try to take control; does not hint at retaliation.  Love would rather be seized, than to seize.

But then there is Peter, the impulsive, hot-headed disciple.  He is not going to take it meekly.  He, like so many of us, is a practical man, and needs to do something; to fight against the chaos around him.  Instinctively, he grabs his sword and swings it at a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest, hacking off his ear.  The man screams in terror as the blood runs down and the ear lies on the ground.

Then Jesus speaks.  “Put away your sword.  For those who live by the sword, die by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”  He then presses his hands against the bloody hole in the side of Malchus’ head.  He removes his hands, Malchus ceases to be in pain and all stare in awe.   A follower of Jesus had choosen to cut rather than heal and Jesus had to come behind him to clean up the mess made by one of his own.  He’s been doing it with all of us ever since.

Peter was well-intentioned.  He was both angry and afraid.  He wanted to protect Jesus and protect himself.  But Jesus, with legions of angels at his beck and call had no need of protection.  Today we followers of Jesus feel we are in a war too; a culture war. We too can sense the enemy coming.  We too feel angry and afraid.   But Jesus has no need of our passionate displays of angry piety.  Jesus is not looking for anyone to stand up for him.

Jesus’ humble response in the garden shows us the way of the kingdom.  Peter’s act of anger and fear shows us the way of the kingdoms of this world.  One is the way of vulnerability, humility and sacrifice, the other is the way of violence, retaliation and retribution.  One says “friend, do what you came here to do.” the other takes matters into its own hands.  One is the way of the kingdom, the other is the way of the world.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to stand up for him, but to stand with him.  Jesus, who stood between the accused and the accuser when the men came for the woman who had been caught in adultery; stood with despised tax collectors, challenges us to do likewise.  Jesus is in no danger.  But people on the margins of our societies are in danger indeed.

We continually need choose between the way of the king and the way of the kingdoms of this world.  It is easy to use the language of piety, devotion, self-righteousness, common sense, and self-protection when we are angry and afraid.  We add a dash of blame-casting and scapegoating of someone who is “the other” and it even feels righteous.  But it is a righteousness at someone else’s expense.

Peter was angry and afraid so he lashed out.  We can be the same.  We too can face our version of obnoxious reporters.  But lashing out is exactly what Jesus’ perfect love came to cast out.

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From → Christianity

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