Sunday, September 3, 2017

false compassion

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today*(printed below) we see St Peter try to persuade our Lord from accepting the things that must happen to him – that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer greatly at the hands of the authorities there, and be killed. And it must surely seem to us that the reaction of St Peter is a very natural one – the man whom he has left everything for to follow, the man he believes to be the promised and long-awaited Messiah, the man he has declared to be the Son of the Living God, the man he calls master and teacher and Lord, the man he loves more than life itself has told him that he is soon to face a very cruel fate. And the greatest of the Apostles is quite frankly appalled. So much so that he is moved to speak to our Lord in a manner that is, to put it bluntly, astonishing. He begins to rebuke him! Imagine – a mere man takes it upon himself to rebuke the One he knows to be the Son of God! But, as I said, at a certain level his reaction to the information that Jesus shares with him about future events can be seen as being quite natural. Who among us, after all, would be happy to be told that even someone we did not like very much was soon to suffer greatly and then die? And if we were told that this was to be the fate of someone we greatly loved, would we not do everything within our power to prevent those terrible future events from taking place?

And yet the reaction of our Lord shows that reactions such as St Peter's are not to be countenanced. Consider: he does not say to him 'I know that you are saying this because you love me and do not wish to see me suffer'; and he does not say 'you speak this way because you are a man of great compassion who does not wish to see someone else in pain'. No; he says 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.' He is telling St Peter that when he behaves in this way, even though he may think he speaks out of love, out of compassion, that he is actually doing the work of Satan; that far from being good, what he is doing is evil. Why? Because he is placing the way human mind thinks and the human heart feels above the will of God as it has been revealed to him. And let us be quite clear – God's will has been revealed to him concerning this matter in a very unambiguous and direct way. For he has been told by Jesus himself what the fate of the Christ is to be; and he himself, only moments before, just a few verses prior to those we hear read in our Gospel reading today, when Jesus asks his disciples who do they say that he is, has declared that he is the Christ, the Son of God.

This, of course, makes St Peter's actions all the more surprising. He knows this is the will of God – for the Son of God himself has told him that it is. And yet he sets himself to argue against it. This demonstrates to us what a powerful temptation it is that St Peter faced – the temptation that when obeying God's will seems hard or to come at a great a cost to try and find a way around it. It is so powerful a temptation that it is little wonder that we will often hear people speak out against the clear teachings of Scripture or the Church founded by Christ, saying that those teachings must be changed, or if not changed at least not acted upon, so we can deal with people more compassionately, or more pastorally … but it is a false compassion as the reaction of our Lord to the words of St Peter shows. It is false because even though these things may seem good, even godly to us, they are not – they are evil, they are of Satan. It is false because it puts the desires of men before the will of God.


And it is false because it forgets, as St Peter did that day, that there are things beyond this life. For when our Lord outlined the fate of the Christ to his disciples on that occasion, it did not end with suffering, it did not end with death. It ended with the Resurrection – the Resurrection which is for us the promise of eternal life. That is why Jesus was able to tell his followers that they must take up their cross if they wished to follow him; because no matter what it cost them to do so, it would not end in death for them just as it did not for him – it would end in eternal life. And it was for eternal life that we were all created; it was for eternal life for us all that Christ suffered and died and rose again; and it is for eternal life, for ourselves and all others that we must daily strive … even as we pray for it in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

*Matthew 16: 21-28

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." 23* But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." 24* Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27* For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. 28* Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." 

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