Monday, September 17, 2012

"Divine not human things..."

Preparing a sermon for the past Sunday I was working with the story of Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus tells Peter "you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things".

I wanted to suggest that Jesus was not suggesting Peter ought to be thinking more about angels and less about bank accounts. Rather the contrast is more like Paul on "flesh" and "spirit".

There are two ways to live: an earthly way, based on a closed-system view of relationships, and a transcendent way.

These alternatives are particularly pertinent in dealing with conflict, whether personal or social (and the original context of the Jesus-Peter conversation is about Messiahs - those figures who promise "save" us from whatever we feel is threatening us).

An "earthly", "human" response to an attack is to strike back. It is the natural response. The system remains closed.

A "divine" way, although rarely clear in advance, is an attempt to break out and transcend a closed cycle with a creative response. It may involve humour, forgiveness, imagination. It will be uncertain in its outcome, surviving on promise and hope. It will look rather akin to what Gandhi called Satyagraha.

The transcendent, divine way will also involve a cost to the self. This may be a swallowing of pride, an absorption of pain (rather than the returning of it), and a declining of satisfaction.

This is why, I suggested, the passage ends with the famous call "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me".

The cross was the punishment uniquely reserved for rebels. There will be a cost for following the "divine" way, for "rebelling" against the closed system.

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