‘From that time on…’ says Matthew at the very start of our reading today.
What time? What just happened? What have we missed? What’s changed?
If we rewind just a little, just a few verses we see that Jesus has just had a conversation with the disciples about just who he is. ‘Who do you say I am’?, he’s just asked, and then again ‘Who do they say I am?’ He seems to be expecting multiple answers, such is the effect of his ministry, and the live debate around who he is and what he is doing in Judea. You could say that we have four Jesuses, shown to us from different angles, in the four Gospels; I wonder how many more Jesuses did people experience back then?
This feels like the first academic Foundation Unit in Christology, and it’s quite a surprise that this conversation about who Jesus really is hasn’t happened before – the Disciples, those most trusting of people, have been trailing around the ancient Near East through Matthew’s Gospel for some time now, bearing witness to various challenging events; such as unlikely-sounding distribution of foods from seemingly nowhere, of people walking on water, healing of demons, teaching through odd stories, and being the first to hear a world-changing prayer. And, three chapters ago, they have been read a hair-raising job description from Jesus that says they will go out in Mission like ‘sheep amongst wolves.’ Despite all of this they all signed up for the role. Just another busy few weeks in Judea, then. What an exciting time it must have been to be alive. We are watching the original New Worshipping Community taking shape.
But now, in today’s reading, they start wondering about just who it is whose footsteps they have been following all of this while.
Peter is so sure of who Jesus is that he can’t imagine that Jesus’s story of what will happen to him in Jerusalem can possibly be true. Peter seems to be thinking that Jesus is so great, so set apart, so transcendent, that earthly things, like persecution and death, just cannot happen to him. Jesus encourages Peter, who he compares to a beautiful but fallen angel, to think more widely than he has been able to so far. OK, Jesus says, you’re doing OK on earth, but there is more, there’s much more, and it’s that that I’ve been kinda hoping that all of you might take on board. Let those who have ears, listen!
Not long ago, Jesus, perhaps recognising the pressure that his
very new Leadership Management Team had been under since their commission, had said to them that the burden was light. I’m not sure that’s absolutely been right since, in the stern Gospel of Matthew, who seems much angrier now than last time I read him in any detail; either he’s changed or I have. The Disciples are all leaders in the original New Worshipping Communities, and in saying ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,’ I think Jesus is acknowledging just how difficult establishing New Worshipping Communities can be. This is a heavy burden, actually. But that’s no reason not to try, and no reason at all not to persevere. The reward for this work is to see ‘the Son of Man coming into his kingdom.’
‘Coming into his kingdom…’ Not our Kingdom, or the Diocese’s kingdom, or the Church of England’s kingdom, or the world’s kingdom; it’s into his kingdom. We, seeking the way to the Kingdom, just like the People of the Way we read about in Acts, just need to remember whose kingdom we are a part of. This is his kingdom, and we are fully part of it.
In the New Testament, through Gospels, letters, and adventure stories, we hear eyewitness reports of these New Communities; and now, we are all again eyewitnesses to the renewal of his kingdom, here and how, in our own New Communities, and in that renewal our church and our faith find life.
So ‘From that time on…’ or from this time on, ‘Whoever loses their life for me will find it,’ says Jesus.
All in all, that sounds like a pretty good deal to me…
- What are the stumbling blocks in your Parish. Are you one of them?
- What will your reward be, for what you have done?