In the course of our lives I think we all have probably had the experience of thinking that we really know someone, and finding out later on that they weren’t the person we thought they were. Usually that realization leaves us disgusted or disappointed, angry or just plain sad.
I often worry in the life of faith that that is what goes on between us and Jesus – that we might think we know Him, but then it turns out that He isn’t really the person we thought he was, the person that we wanted Him to be.
Peter had that experience in the Gospel today. He thinks he knows Jesus, and he gets part of that right – you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Well done Peter! What a great act of faith, but then he doesn’t follow that confession through – he doesn’t see where that path really goes. He rejects the idea that Jesus would suffer and die – and Jesus says those words we never want Him to say to us – get behind me Satan, you are thinking not as God does but as man does – and you just don’t get it, you really don’t know me, and what I’m calling you too.
And then Jesus sets up for us the great threefold lesson of how we are to know Him, how we are to follow Him truly, not just the warm and fuzzy Jesus we like to think we know – He says if you want to come after me, then deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. And that’s where we tend to say Whoa Jesus. That’s not what I signed up for. I want fluffy cuddly Jesus who brings me candy and makes me feel good, not the Jesus who calls me to sacrifice or suffer or obey.
James this weekend talks to us that line I mentioned a few weeks ago – faith without works is dead. Peter had the faith, but his works were dead – cause he didn’t yet know how he had to put that faith into action – through carrying His cross.
And that is how you and I do that too – the faith we profess here, if it is true, must be carried out from this place into our lives – where we deny ourselves, we pick up our crosses, and we follow, we trudge, after Jesus.
And we don’t have to look far for our crosses – all the things that push in on us, all the frustrations of life, all the commandments we struggle with, all the sad situations, all the sufferings we have – especially maybe most of all watching the sufferings of those we love so very much – those become our daily crosses – along with trying to love each other as Jesus commands us – that’s a cross with a capital C if ever there was one.
Faith without works is dead. And there is only one way to have a living faith – it’s not pretty, it’s not easy, but it is the only way to know the real Jesus and not to be left disappointed in the end – to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow after Jesus – no matter what may come our way. Lord, increase our faith. God help us all. +