We are Called to Listen
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concern.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8: 31-34.
There is a lot in this scripture. There is something about listening even when it’s hard. There is something about following the way to the redemptive life, even when it’s hard. There is something about making choices that sometimes are hard. There is this question about whether we hear the lesson Jesus teaches.
Listening is not always a simple thing. In my years as a counselor, I learned to listen to what was said or not said, to what was included or left out of the person’s narrative they were telling me, to what emotions were allowed or not allowed, to what was longing to be heard but was hardly expressed. I also found that really as I learned to listen, so the person or people before me were learning to listen. Many very capable and intelligent adults have learned over a lifetime to not listen to themselves very well, to not listen to their deepest needs and desires, or, as I found with couples, to not listen, as if for the first time, to their partner. Listening is sometimes really hard.
When Jesus began talking about the suffering ahead of him, his number one disciple, Peter, rebuked Jesus. “Don’t say that kind of thing, “was Peter’s feeling “Don’t talk like that!” And, in turn, Jesus rebukes Peter, does so quite forcefully. “Get behind me Satan!” he says. Peter didn’t want to listen to what Jesus was telling him, and often times neither do we, but you see, we are called to walk behind Jesus who is leading us to the deepest possible relationship with God. We are to try not to make ourselves the ones leading, because you know, we often choose the things that make us more comfortable rather than more loving, or we choose the things that are easy to listen to rather than the things that may have some pain in them but lead us into the deepest possible relationship with God. When Jesus says, “Get behind me!” he is telling Peter, and us, stay in your lane! Follow me and I will show you new life, give you new ears to hear, offer you living water. All this trying to go ahead and you lead the way is taking you no-where fast.
Jesus’ rebuke is not to put us down or to make us feel shame in our lives. Jesus’ rebuke is to help us identify what is not helpful in our walk with God. Have you ever had a plan that in your mind was just great but then someone warns you that it’s really heading into disaster? The rebuke ends up saving you – from embarrassment, from injury to self or other, or from perhaps more serious problems legal or financial.
I know during this Lenten season a group at my church have been studying the work of anti-racism. That is material that contains voices who often have not been heard. And sometimes it is really hard to learn to listen to those voices as we do the anti-racism work. It’s hard because it’s painful. Because the voices talk about pain and suffering and hurt and anger. It’s hard for us to learn to listen when the word is painful. But the reward in it is having our hearts and minds opened to a great reality in the world. The reward is that people who have been the recipients of racism speak so that others will hear and listen, and then there is the opportunity that we can live a little better, we can walk closer to justice, we can find our hearts and minds understanding and we see more clearly. We begin to take deep cleansing breaths that are filled with a new sense of relationship and a better world.
We have had to listen to the suffering and pain of the people of Ukraine. Sometimes it is so painful we want to turn away, turn off the television, turn our minds to something pleasant. And maybe we do some of this to stay well and healthy ourselves. And yet. And yet, Jesus asks us to bear the suffering alongside of other people, to feel inside of ourselves that the attack on humanity even across the world, is an attack on people everywhere.
You know, Jesus had been walking and living with his disciples quite a while when Peter didn’t want to listen to what Jesus was saying about the cost of discipleship, the way we have to take up our cross and follow, the way we have to lose our lives to find them. If we are really honest, haven’t we, at some point, disagreed with Jesus, asking why he doesn’t do what we want? Why won’t he see the world our way? It all seems so clear to us? What’s wrong with shutting out the suffering so we don’t have to feel it? What’s wrong with just focusing on the positive? What’s wrong with making sure we side step any conflict or problem?
You know, it was probably thoughts just like this that Peter had and we have these thoughts too. As Episcopal priest Michael Marsh says, “We have this image of what the Messiah is supposed to do and who the Messiah is supposed to be. Everything is great when Jesus is casting out demons, healing the sick, preventing death and feeding the multitudes. We like that Jesus. We want to follow that Jesus.”
But Jesus rebukes Peter and us really because you see the road is more than that. Jesus is more than all of that. He is the one who “must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.” And it is not just the elders and the chief priests and the scribes who reject him. Peter does. We do. If just for a moment. We do.
You see we have to keep making a choice: to listen to all of it, to the miracle and the anguish. To the people well fed and the people never fed. To the sea that becomes calm and the storm that never seems to go away. We have to listen to all of it in order to choose again and again the life that Jesus calls us to. Asks us to follow him into. Asks us to sacrifice for.
Whenever I think about sacrifice, I think about how love helps me choose. I would sacrifice anything for my children, even my own life if it were necessary. I would choose that and I think many of you would choose it too. I would sacrifice for my husband and I would sacrifice for my brothers, my friends and for my opportunities to feel the presence of God near to me. I think many of you would too. Love clarifies our choices. And it is love that allows us to listen. It is love that is the road. It is love that can create the miracles, all of them, that Jesus did and which he instructed us to do. It doesn’t mean that all the problems and pain disappear. It means that love as the road will always lead us to the transfiguration of our lives. We are lifted up with our crosses and our suffering is changed to strength and our minds are change to reflect the image of Christ.
When Jesus rebukes us it is to teach us again to listen and to choose. Again, Michael Marsh says it well: “To choose to give in a world that takes, to love in a world that hates, to heal in a world that injures, to give life in a world that kills. Jesus offered mercy when others sought vengeance, forgiveness when others condemned and compassion when others were indifferent. Jesus trusted God’s abundance when others said there was not enough. With each choice Jesus denied himself and showed God was present.”
It is this that we are called to. It is this way that we walk and to this story we are called to listen to.
The promises of this way of choosing and this way of listening leads to an amazing amount of love. Love like we can hardly believe. Love that sustains us and heals us and sustains and heals the world. It is this love that brings the resurrection which we shall surely see, not only at the end of our days, but within our days, within our lives and within the life of the world.