Burning questions rather than the burning bush

Signpost for Sunday 31 August 2014: Exod 3:1-15; Ps 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Rom 12:9-21; Matt 16:21-28

One minute Yeshua is building his church on Cephas and the next he’s calling him Satan. You have to feel for Peter. He’s just found the Christ, the son of the living God and he’s even been offered the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Of course he doesn’t want to hear that Yeshua is soon to be killed. Peter is only human, like me. This isn’t even the hot-headed Peter we keep being reminded about by preachers, this is perfectly understandable Peter. He is saying exactly what we all feel, let alone what all the disciples no doubt felt. So I don’t like this passage much at all frankly. It was written long after Jesus had died and only Matthew includes this rebuke. Some scholars say it’s an echo of Matt 4:10, in which case Jesus isn’t talking to Peter at all he’s fighting his own temptation to avoid an imminent death. Maybe but then why does Matthew write, “But he turned and said to Peter”? Maybe you have answer that I can’t figure out.

Then we get another confusing bit. This week’s gospel reading concludes with these words: “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew is writing around AD 80. He knew perfectly well that some people had already died before Jesus came into his kingdom.

Yet “some standing here” included Peter, James, and John. In six days’ time, and in the very next verse, these three disciples will be up on a mountain and they will see Jesus transfigured before their very eyes and hear God’s voice (Matt 17:1-8). Maybe Matthew 16:28 isn’t talking about the second coming at all. Could Matthew be talking about the transfiguration of Jesus that’s about to happen, or even the resurrection that ends this version of gospel story?

As for the reading from Romans, it follows the plea for us not to conform to the ways of this world (Rom 12:2) and that verse can get people into all sorts of trouble worrying about what that actually means. But if we do follow the advice Paul gives us in this week’s reading that is exactly how not to conform. Letting love be genuine, practising hospitality, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, never being bent on vengeance. Doesn’t that make much more sense than arguing about things like whether a gay person should be allowed to be a priest or not?

Paul

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