Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 3rd September (Ordinary 22)

Psalm 105 : 1 – 6, 23 – 26; Exodus 3 :1 – 15;  Romans 12 :9-21; Matthew 16 : 21 – 28

 by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone.

In the space of just a few verses Peter has, according to Jesus, gone from being ‘the rock on which I will build my church,’ (16 : 18) to ‘a stumbling block to me.’ (16 : 23) Jesus described Peter as the rock because of his declaration, ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (16 : 16). The depth of understanding in Peter’s answer was at the time impressive and insightful but did he really understand what he was saying? Or was he just trying to impress Jesus or show off in front of the others?  

His reaction to Jesus’ prediction in today’s reading is very different. As Jesus goes on to talk about his suffering and death at the hands of the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law and his rising from the dead on the third day, Peter challenged him, ‘Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’  (16: 22) Had Peter forgotten his previous declaration or did he not understand the meaning of his words? Peter loved Jesus and it was therefore easy to give him the status of ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ However, to accept that for this prediction to come true, his loving friend needs to suffer and endure a cruel and painful death by crucifixion is hard. Peter’s response is about his human concerns and relationship and not about God’s plan and purpose. As Jesus now begins to talk openly about his sufferings and death, to have one of his closest companions challenging his predictions is a stumbling block which will lead to confusion and doubt to those who are listening.

Jesus ends his response to Peter but going even further ahead in God’s plan, ‘for the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels and then will reward each person according to what they have done.’ (16 : 27) According to whether they have been a rock or a stumbling block? According to whether their words and actions have truly declared Jesus as, the Messiah, Son of the Living God?’

Hopefully, we all have some awareness of God’s plan and purpose for our lives, it is always evolving, sometimes in ways which are deeply challenging and surprising. Such was the experience of Moses the shepherd. On an ordinary day, tending his father-in-law’s sheep, suddenly from inside a burning bush, God calls his name (Exodus : 3 : 4) and reveals himself (3 : 6). The purpose of the Lord’s appearance is to express concern about the misery and suffering of his people at the hands of the Egyptians and to inform Moses that he has been elected to, ‘go to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ (3 : 10) How does Moses respond, as a rock or as a stumbling block? Moses expresses his concerns about God’s plan, his inadequacy for the task, how does he identify himself and introduce God. God reassures him, promises to be with him and gives him the right words. So, after some initial stumbling blocks, Moses goes and leads God’s people to freedom and becomes a rock on which God continues to fulfil his plans.

What about us as individuals and our church communities? How could our words, our priorities, our actions, our lives be described – are we stumbling blocks to people meeting with God and building a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God’ or are we rocks on which the church is enabled to continue to grow and evolve as people meet with God and build a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God?’ What about us as individuals and our church communities? How could our words, our priorities, our actions, our lives be described – are we stumbling blocks to people meeting with God and building a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God’ or are we rocks on which the church is enabled to continue to grow and evolve as people meet with God and build a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God?                                                                  

Prayer: Lord, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, help us always to be like a rock on which others can meet with you and build a relationship with you.