September 3 2023 “Mindful Christians”
September 3, 2023
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples that he must travel to Jerusalem, suffer, be executed, and raised from the dead on the third day.
Peter rebukes him, misunderstanding the necessity of Jesus’ suffering, “This shall never happen to you.” Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind divine things, but merely human concerns.”
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus acknowledges Peter’s faith and insight, entrusting him with the keys to the kingdom.
How many of us have taught our children or grandchildren to drive a car? How often have we cautiously given them the keys, said a silent prayer and listened late into the night for the calming noise of the car being returned to the garage. Likewise, How often have we also taken the keys away?
These passages from Matthew highlight Jesus’ mentoring relationship with his disciples: Jesus rebukes Peter not because he is Satan, but because Peter’s words align with a temptation to avoid the path of abuse and execution that Jesus is called to endure.
Jesus giving Peter the “keys to the kingdom” and then rebuking him with “Get behind me, Satan” are not binary choices, rather they represent the complex multi-faceted nature of Jesus’ teachings and interactions with his disciples. They emphasize that the journey of faith involves growth, learning, adaptation, realignment with God’s purposes rather than human inclinations.
They illuminate for us Jesus’ role for us, as teacher, rabbi, guiding each of us through our own personal formation, notwithstanding our own confusion and human weakness.
Faithful Discipleship is not simply making binary choices, but moreover a lifelong process of grappling with the depth of Jesus’s teachings, embracing a multidimensional understanding of Holy mission, and aligning our lives with the transformative way of Jesus.
Turning to Evil, Satan, and other human forgetfulness and temptations…
How often do we Christians forget to be Christian. We forget to love one another, our neighbors, and our enemies. We forget to resist temptation, practice humility, and steward creation. We forget to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We forget to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We forget to forgive. We forget to pray for those who would harm us. We forget to pray.
We forget to prayerfully engage the mind of Christ as we respond to exploitation and injustice, misery and pain, and violence and death, so an oddly typical thing happens when Christian’s encounter tragedy, horror, or evil.
We get theological brain cramps at the very moments we ask the unanswerable questions: Why do the innocent suffer? How long will the wicked prosper? Why is there evil in the world? Why would an almighty God allow terrible things to take place? Would God inflict evil upon someone?
We Christians get stuck in a single, logical impasse: either God is good, or God is powerful. We argue that God cannot be both, for if God were both, good and powerful, there would be no evil would?
CS Lewis challenges us not to believe in a powerful, indifferent, manager God running a tidy universe. Why repent, do justice and love kindness unless we were preordained to do so?
In our pursuit to comprehend the concept of evil, we find diverse perspectives in systems of faith and ethics. Buddhism interprets evil, often synonymous with suffering, as a karmic force that calls for our thoughtful response. In Hinduism, the presence of evil provokes a continuous cycle of questioning, with the persistent query of “why.” Within Muslim scholarship, the questioning of evil’s existence is discouraged, except as the whisperer, with the emphasis placed on trusting in God’s divine plan, omnipotent power, and inscrutable love as an indivisible whole. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Judaism grapples tenaciously with the profound question of why, reacting with a spectrum of emotions—rage, indifference, contemplation—only to revisit the question once more.
Christian theology finds common ground with them all: we ask, we accept, we rebel, we adapt, we grieve, and we rise up.
Our human nature provokes us to ask why a powerful and loving God creates a universe in which there is so much suffering and evil. We are outraged about life’s horrors; yet we believe, we trust in God despite evil, not to explain evil. We remember God’s words to Moses, I have observed the misery of my people…
Gary Commins, is a retired priest friend of mine from Southern California. Gary and I grew up in the same area, at about the same time, and when we met as adults realized we had crossed paths many times in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that wherever there is suffering “the devil has his hand in the game.“ William Stringfellow, Episcopal Lay Theologian stresses that Death, chaos plus evil, is Creations second greatest power next to God, and that Death was defeated by Christ in resurrection where evil was the most militant.
Where does one stop and the other begin? Some things are easily identified as evil; some as chaos, and in others, evil and chaos merge; it can be hard to tell one from the other; but one often multiplies the other — gun violence (evil) by mental illness (chaos), covid pandemic (chaos) by political delusions (evil), or climate change (chaos) by corporate irresponsibility (evil).
Buddhism makes little distinction between chaos and evil; both bring suffering and instructs Western theology to get over our obsessive “why“ in that it distracts us from the spiritual work of liberation from suffering, which requires intentional prayerful energy. We are called to find within oneself liberation from malignant disharmony, our human temptations, in order to liberate others.
The Black Lives Matter and # MeToo movements are straightforward responses to the evils of white supremacy and male domination. In contrast, the coronavirus pandemic mixed chaos with evil. The virus is part of the chaos of creation; intentional irresponsible personal actions and obtuse policy decisions that added to the death toll are evil.
Blaming God for poverty, injustice, typhoons, or pandemics is like a smoker rebuking God for lung cancer or consumers blaming God for climate change. We are challenged to assume agency, personal responsibility for substance abuse, violent behavior and social responsibility for racial violence, immigrant intolerance, income inequality, heterosexist violence and exploitation, climate change, and the increasing impact of fictional history forced onto many of our children.
Scriptures teaches that Jesus is an existential problem for the evil manifestations in the world. There are numerous stories where Jesus unmasks, confronts, combats, transforms, absorbs and defeats evil. We are sent two by two to do likewise.
Abraham Heschel coins the term anthropodicy. Our primary question, he says, is not: given our violent history, how can we worship, trust, and love God? The question is: given the endless history of human atrocities, how does God sustain faith in us? We can imagine that Jesus shares God’s frustration with humanity, and empathizes with our alienation from God.
Jesus instructed His disciples, conveying the message that reverberates with us today. if any want to become my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.
Jesus raises an agonizing question: “What will it profit if you gain the whole world but forfeit your life?” Jesus encourages us to examine our priorities, to commit to what we truly value.
In a world that often prioritizes self-preservation and the pursuit of earthly gain, Jesus challenges us to shift our focus. We are invited repeatedly to embrace discipleship, and the power of transformation. In our journey, faith is not a simplified transaction, but a transformative process that shapes our character and aligns our values with the way of love.
Let us pray for the strength courage and wisdom to follow His call, to carry our cross, putting Satan behind us, and to transform our lives in Jesus loving care.
Take time this week to reflect upon our forgetful behaviors and how we might put behind us the evil that influences our lives.
We forget the core of Jesus teachings is to love one another, our neighbors, our enemies, creation.
We compromise our convictions, in a world rampant with distractions and desires, our sacred responsibility to protect and nurture God’s creation.
We forget to be the hands and feet of Christ, failing to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. To Welcome the stranger, to disrupt evil wherever it exists.
We are challenged to extend forgiveness, to free ourselves from the burden of bitterness, to create space for healing and reconciliation.
We forget the simple act of prayer. We forget to pause and connect with the divine that yearns for our attention. Let us remember, recommit to the simple, profound acts of prayer, a walk or silent conversation with the Creator that nurtures our souls.
Micah’s wisdom echoes in our hearts: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
We are not abandoned. Holy Grace is unwavering, inviting us to realign our hearts, to rekindle our spirits, to engage and embody the transformative principles of our faith.
Let us renew our baptismal commitments to walk the path illuminated by Jesus’ teachings. To fully embrace love, resist temptation, practice humility, steward creation, pursue justice, and extend mercy, reflecting the very heart of Christ to a world in need.
Friends, let us be mindful Christians, embracing our call to love, serve, and honor The Holy One in all that we do. May our behaviors reflect the way of Jesus, and may our lives be a testament to the transformative power of His grace.