I had a young friend in elementary school who, like me, grew up as an avid Star Wars fan. Like myself, he could just about quote every single line from the movie, he could answer who would win in a fight, Darth Vader or a Rancor (which clearly was Darth Vader). So imagine my absolute envy and anger when I found out that his mother was attending a meeting about entertainment and arts for the city which Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, was at, and managed to bring her son along! And not only that, he got to talk to him and meet him! And talk to him! Here with his great hero, the legend!
And the way his mother told the story later, he ran up to Harrison Ford and began babbling as a little kid is prone to about how much he loved him and his movies. And the actor was just nodding and kinda smiling and saying “Thank you thank you.” And my friend said, “You have no idea how much those movies mean to me, I have seen them a thousand times, literally, I can quote every single one of your lines from memory.” At which point, Harrison Ford’s smile disappeared, and he leaned down to my friend and said “Kid, for goodness sake, start watching something else.”
Not exactly what my friend was expecting to hear from the man he so dearly loved and idolized. I can tell you that he came back rather meek from that meeting and I no longer envied him. And I imagine that is rather how the rest of the 12 disciples felt upon hearing what Jesus said to a very ardent and fervent Peter. I think hearing Jesus say “Get behind me Satan” is quite possibly the last thing that anyone would want to hear from the lips of the King of Creation. And you cannot help but almost feel sorry for Peter because really, his heart is in the right place, only a few moments before, when Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?” Peter alone, out of all the disciples is the one who is willing to step forward, despite the implications that could come from it, and publicly declare, “You are the Son of God, the Christ!” He was also the only one who was willing to get out of the boat and walk towards Christ on the water. He has displayed great faith and devotion, and Jesus acknowledges this, saying that He will give Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven! How profound!
But here and now, while Peter reacts in horror to the idea that this Jesus he loves so dearly is to suffer and be put to death, Peter is hit with one of the harshest rebukes Jesus is recorded to have said. And He says something that, to me, is the hardest part of His rebuke: “You have become a hindrance to me.” Peter, this fervent disciple who is beginning to step into such a profound role of leadership, is told by Jesus that what he is doing, in hoping to keep Jesus safe, is actually hindering Jesus and what God hopes to accomplish. His heart may have been in the right place, but as Christ says “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.”
A harsh verdict. Peter longed to see Jesus victorious, to see Him raised up above Herod, the Sanhedrin and Rome itself! But Jesus raised up on a Cross, bleeding and gasping for breath? How could this be what God wanted? Yet the Father once said “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.” To Peter, and indeed, basically anyone, what God had planned, what God was about to do was the opposite of victory, it seemed like defeat. But here when Jesus is explaining it quite clearly, Peter is unable to see it, because his own understanding of what would be best is keeping him from doing so. And so he has become a hindrance.
We know that our God is a loving God, but like a loving parent or spouse or friend, sometimes harsh things need to be said in order to help us to realize the mistakes that we are making. And this rebuke that Jesus gives serves not only as a warning for Peter, but for us as well. And it is a lesson that is hard to learn.
Because when we set our minds to that which is of God, we often find that He us to things that we would rather not do or participate in, so it is easy to rationalize to ourselves why we really don’t have to do that particular thing, or why it really isn’t a good idea and that can’t possibly be what God wants us to say or do. How easy it is to say that this thing that seems crazy or illogical couldn’t possibly be what is best.
I’m reminded of my former roommate form Pittsburgh before I met Camila, who was flying back from a huge missions committee and was collapsed in the airport waiting for the airplane. At a distance away from him stood an Orthodox Jewish man. My roommate felt the Holy Spirit say to him, “Go talk to him.” And he thought, no I’m too tired and exhausted, and what on earth would I say? But then the man sat down across from him and he felt the nudge again; and he thought, how insulting would it come across to a clearly conservative Jew if I started spouting about Jesus to him in the middle of the airport? But he kept feeling this push. So he said, “Look God, if you really need to me to talk to this man, have him sit down next to me on the airplane!” Guess who was sitting next to him on the airplane! And no there was no story of a miraculous conversion, or a profound realization of the Messiah, but what there was was an opportunity to talk with and minister to a man who had just left his father’s funeral and was grieving.
What had seemed like the lead up to an awkward and insensitive conversation in reality was an opportunity to minister and share in a painful experience, despite the differences that seemed so prevalent. But if my roommate had continued to protest, and continued to offer excuses about why this was not a good idea from his perspective, he would have been a hindrance to what the Spirit had planned, just like Peter. But he eventually listened, he was familiar enough to the whispering of the Holy Spirit to recognize what it was He desired. This is why St. Paul warns us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
If we have our minds set on that which is of the world then we are in danger of missing out entirely on what God is calling us to, even if we think that what we are doing is for His glory, with the best of intentions in our hearts. Such was the case with the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land long ago, desiring to retake the Holy Land by force. Such is the case with many today who say that Jesus doesn’t care what we do with our lives, so long as we are fundamentally happy. Such is the case when I try to explain to myself why being involved in this ministry, or talking to this person, or speaking up at this time really isn’t the best idea.
I’ve shared with some of you about the profound moment when I met Douglas Gresham, the son of C.S. Lewis and told him that I was a seminarian and asked if he had any advice or words of wisdom, he decided to share with me what he said was the most important thing his father had told him: “Do not do what YOU want to do for Christ, instead do what HE wants you to do for Him.” It sounds so simple. Perhaps even basic. But it is fundamental to being a disciple of Christ, and without it, we are in danger of creating a pattern of discipleship where we follow our own ultimate plans and designs until they fall short of what we had hoped.
So it was with Peter, who was still so opposed to the idea of the way of the Cross that Christ must go that even in the garden, when everything Jesus had told him was about to happen began to, he still would not listen, and instead grabbed his sword and then had to be rebuked once again. And when everything was now going opposite to what he had planned and expected, he no longer knew what was stable ground, and even denied Christ when he had risked all to proclaim him before.
But as we know, Jesus forgave Peter, and according to the ancient traditions of the Church, Peter truly learned to do that which Christ desired him to do as opposed to what he wanted to do for Christ. Decades later, when Peter was in Rome and the persecution of Nero was beginning, the church elders begged Peter to flee, so that he may continue to spread the Gospel so that it would not be snuffed out by the Emperor. He agreed this was best, so he blessed them and left Rome to go evangelize where the Good News had not yet spread. But as he was walking down the road, he saw a figure struggling towards him under a great burden, and as he drew closer Peter saw that it was Christ carrying His cross, headed in the opposite direction. Peter stopped, baffled and cried out “Lord, where are you going!” and Jesus replied “I am going to Rome, because you are leaving it.” And Peter, picked himself up, turned around, and walked back into the gates of Rome. He continued to serve, he continued to encourage, he continued to teach. And he paid the ultimate price and was martyred, but the Church survived, and flourished.
“Do not do what you want to do for Christ, only do what Christ wants you to do for Him.”
With these words, I feel that we are challenged into the deepest part of what it means to be a disciple of the living God. As people who are not just eager to serve and to proclaim, but willing to listen first, and to do what we hear whispered to our hearts. As the prophet Jeremiah said “When your words came to me, I ate them with joy. They were the delight of my heart. I accepted them because I wanted to bear your name and to be known as yours.” Amen.