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Get Behind Me: "Follow Me" in another tone of voice

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer (Romans 12:12 NRSV)

Get behind me. Tone of voice is difficult to determine when all we have is the text. We do have context and that can help. Peter- the rock, the foundation, bearing witness he proclaims this Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God(Matthew 16:16) Now when Peter pulls Jesus aside to say “God forbid it, this should never happen to you (suffering and death)”- Jesus commands him, “Get behind me”. (Matthew 16:23) There is the addition of “Satan”- this should get Peter’s attention and ours. Get behind me, Satan. Drawn up short, reproached, Peter goes from the rock on which the church will be built to the stumbling block.

Does it get your attention also? Do you remember how at the end of 40 days in the wilderness when tempted, Jesus says something quite similar? In Matthew 4:10- Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan.” Tempted by the devil to turn stone to bread, throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple to have angels save him and to bow down to worship the devil- Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan.” Now we hear “Get behind me, Satan”, not addressed to the devil, but addressed to his beloved Peter, the rock.

That darned human condition… Peter in just a few verses goes from the solid rock to the stumbling block. Faith morphs into fear, misunderstanding, wanting security instead of stepping out into the great unknown. Peter who walked on water, also lost sight of Jesus and began to sink. Fully human, Peter, setting his sights on human things, not divine.

This morning in my meditation I heard at the end this simple message; you get to learn, and grow, and live. There is no perfection in faith on this side of the kingdom. We get glimpses and have moments just as Peter did- You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And then there is the sinking, the fear that if this following Jesus includes pain, sorrow and suffering- it will be too much. We, like Peter, have both rock solid faith insights and trip over the stumbling block moments of desiring not divine things but human things.

Yet, unlike the casting away of Satan in the Temptation- Jesus says to Peter- “get behind me”. This time I heard it as Jesus commanding Peter not to go away, instead to follow. And, this is how you will follow from behind me. Jesus will lead, Peter is called to follow, to get behind Jesus.

The temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness, his followers will face also- temptations for security, affection, control- to find their identity, purpose and meaning in power, property, prestige. And we will and do face these as well. Peter is just like us and we are like Peter at points with rock solid faith and stumbling block fear sometimes just moments apart.

This scene from Charlie Brown of Lucy and the football has come to mind several times for me this past week. Lucy puts out the temptation that this time it will be different, it’s Thanksgiving. She tempts him with “it’s a big honor for you”. Even almost six months into a different reality of pandemic I still have expectations that I can do things in the same manner as last year, or I am placing my trust in that which is untrustworthy, or I try over and over again something that has not proven to be fruitful the many times before. Charlie Brown, Lucy, football.

It’s helped to bring some humor into my struggles and challenges where it seems like I keep relying upon myself. To be able to let go and ask for God’s help when I try over and over again something that doesn’t work because I am lured into thinking this time it will be different. Peter is a great reminder that we are on a journey where sometimes we will be spot on, “You are the Christ” and other times we will hear the reprimand to get behind and remember we are called as followers of Jesus.

Last week I participated in an online retreat on Centering Prayer. This time instead of “doing it my way” and quickly skimming through the directions- I paused and took to heart the suggestion to treat this time as a retreat. Surrendering “my way” I prioritized participation, allowed for space to do the practices that would be introduced, prepared meals ahead of time, cleared my calendar as if I were away from home. In my deep need for renewal, I was open to following the suggestions. Following those suggestions it was life giving and renewing and hard.

There are some new daily practices that I am attempting to incorporate into my life. Slowly by little, with patience and perseverance, and a tremendous amount of God’s help I am trusting that I will get to grow and learn and this will allow for living a way that is more fully present in the moment. That the “live” message is what Paul writes in Romans 12:12; rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer.

Romans 12 is a rich resource of growing and learning. One of the practices I have is to read scripture in a variety of translations to increase connection with my life and it’s meaning. As I shared last week, Romans 12 is one of my favorite “go to” chapters for directions.This week I am considering that for me “getting behind” is a message that instead of trying to make this life of following Jesus be “my way” I get to follow direction.

So I took printed out a document I made from Romans 12 ( The Message translation) and created a numbered list of “Placing your life before God”. You can find a copy of that here if you are interested. I am taping it inside my journal to be reminded of some of what “taking up my cross” looks like.

And, I am taking to heart the message that to focus on divine things instead of human things is a process and we are each a work in progress. In discipleship and following Jesus, we don’t do this alone or of our own effort. We get to follow together. We draw upon God’s power and presence. Emmanuel, God with us- that is how Jesus shows us the way, guiding us, leading us, walking alongside us. So to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer one day and one moment at a time.

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