Rock of Ages – Br. Jim Woodrum
As you can tell from the name of our Society, we brothers have a special affinity to the beloved disciple which tradition suggests is John. There is an icon in the statio that you pass on your way into the cloister that contains the tender image of the beloved disciple reclining on the breast of Jesus. He was closest to Jesus in his inner circle of friends. But if truth be told, most days I identify more with Peter. You may remember in Matthew’s gospel that Simon is renamed by Jesus and given the name Peter which means rock, “and on this rock,” Jesus tells him, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”[i]
But it is not this aspect of Peter that I identify with. It is because more often than not gets it wrong. Peter is constantly saying the wrong things and sticking his foot in his mouth. It is Peter who steps outside the boat to walk with Jesus on the water but is overcome by his fear and begins to sink.[ii] It is Peter who denies Jesus three times before the cock crows after his insistence that he would never leave Jesus.[iii] The many stories we hear about Peter suggests that he does not have all the information he needs and often acts or speaks out of ignorance.
In today’s gospel from Mark we observe one of those uncomfortable moments. Jesus is teaching and he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that that I am?”The disciples give him an assortment of answers before Jesus asks, “But who do YOU say that I am?” Peter boldly answers him, “You are the Messiah!” Jesus then begins to tell them what it is he will go through in order to fulfill this vocation he has been called to.
Then comes the difficult part. Jesus’ testimony to his suffering goes against the expectations Peter envisions for the long awaited Messiah of God. The Messiah is supposed to rise up against the powers of oppression and like Moses, deliver God’s people from the brutal tyranny of Rome. Peter rebukes Jesus. I imagine Peter saying, “Did you not hear what I just said? You are the Messiah of God. This suffering and death part is a square peg trying to be fit in a round hole. Certainly, you have this all wrong, O Messiah of God!”
But Jesus didn’t come to be the second Moses. He came to be the second Adam. The oppression he came to defeat was not Rome, rather he came to overthrow the deceitful serpent who beguiled human kind in the Garden of Eden with the delightful and enticing notion that we in our finitude could be like God.[iv] Peter’s rebuke is the exact behavior that Jesus came to heal and he instantly see through the posture and identifies Peter’s words with those of the tempter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
As you pray with this scripture, consider your own expectations of God. How is Jesus defying your expectations? If you’re like me, it could be through something ‘broken’ in your life. God often enters our hearts, not through doors we have left open invitingly, but through the cracks rendered to hearts through some hardship, or difficult relationship, or a traumatic experience. It could be that you are in the midst of great blessing in your life yet you are listening to a worldly voice that says you’re not worthy. Perhaps you are feeling a vocational call, one that is beckoning you to step outside your comfort zone yet you are fearful of traveling a path that is unknown to you.
Whatever it may be, lay down your expectations at Jesus feet, put your hands together and receive the sustenance that Jesus desires for you. Jesus has come to transfigure our expectations and help us realize our vocations as children of God. This is the rock and the foundation on which He is building his Church.
[i] Matthew 16:18
[ii] Matthew 14:30
[iii] Luke 22:61-62
[iv] Genesis 3:1-7
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Why do we keep having expectations of God? St Theresa of Avila said that it was not surprising that God had so few friends (her carriage was stuck in mud). Someone once said “Expectations are premeditated resentments”. If this is so, maybe when Peter denied Jesus three times,it was not fear that made him do it. Perhaps he was trying to put an absolute distance between him and what he saw as catastrophe – “I do not know this man” (the failed Messiah). Maybe at that time, all expectations Peter had as to what Jesus ‘should’ be doing, were destroyed. Perhaps Peter’s anger and resentment at what seemed to be failure, was transformed into sorrow and shame over the next three days before the resurrection? To be followed after the resurrection by the Resurrected Jesus, as Messiah, acting to restore Peter’s relationship with him into something even more glorious.
Don’t hold back. Tell it like it is! hahaha. These little sermons are so very good, but sometimes they are hard to swallow. Thanks as always for giving us these reflections that challenge and sustain us.
Thank you Br. Jim. I too relate more to Peter; but the brash, the impulsive, the fearful one who loves Jesus so much, who struggles to follow the path with his foot in his mouth, but who never gives up.
The balm God’s grace
It’s the balm that heals all hurts, soothes the soul, Takes away the sharp edges of hurts and gives rest to the tired soul. It makes the light of God shine through the cracks, fishers and gaps in the heart, piercing through the hardened and crusted places, healing, shining, softening & soothing,making a soul whole.
Thanks be to God, His unconditional love, forgiveness, Grace and for shining the light so I can walk through the door ways He opens for my journey to serve Him. Amen.
Written by Li Vemulakonda