21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
I’m a vegetarian. A terrible, terrible vegetarian.
After I learned about all the factory farming and methane gas and poop runoff and the victimization of the animals and the workers in the slaughterhouses, after I read about all antibiotics and the super-bacteria and what has been termed “fecal soup” I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the stuff anymore.
And there’s all that corn. So much corn. And if you’ve ever changed a diaper after having corn for dinner, you know, that stuff comes out the same way it came in. That stuff that sure, tastes good, but doesn’t do much for ya, That stuff that gets processed and reprocessed an melded down into a chemically sugary substance that can either fuel my car or sweeten my Oreos.
But. I love me some Oreos. And real Coke. And those bright red swedish fish.
But it’s all empty. It’s empty calories meant to fatten us up. And it’s addicting. Jonah and I call ourselves “sugar monsters” we love the stuff so much.
And corn. Oh, precious corn. Fry it, grill it, pop it, high fructose it, and I’m all in.
And you get so used to eating the high fructose corn syrup and the corn fed big macs and the KFC that can’t even call itself Kentucky Fried Chicken any more - not because it’s not from Kentucky, and not because they sell more than Fried stuff, but on account of the questionable definition of “Chicken”
See. I’m a terrible vegetarian. I’ll take all the empty carbs. I’ll eat the white pasta and the french fries and ice cream and then pat myself on the back, ‘cause hey - I didn’t eat meat.
And then I wonder why my hair is thinning, and I’m tired all the time, and why I’m hungry again, even though I just had a bowl of rice and some Twizzlers twenty minutes ago!
So I gave in and bought some organic grass fed beef. $5.49 a pound at Aldi.
And we made hamburgers. And ate them with a caprice salad and sweet potatoes. And it was so good.
It was real food. The real stuff. With protein and fiber and vitamins and good stuff.
But try to get Jonah to eat it, and he scrunches up his nose, and if he’s having a good day, quickly says, “no thank you.” He only wants the easy stuff. Any form of bleached wheat product will do. Macaroni and Cheese? Check. Pizza? Fine. A quesadilla? Alright. Every day we offer him the real stuff, the real food, but every day he rejects it for some version of tan. It stresses me out and it makes me worry and I keep hoping it’s a phase, but, I’m afraid, he’s come by this habit quite honestly…
And here Jesus is, telling the disciples, I’ve got some real food for ya, but some of it is going to be hard to digest at first. Some of this stuff is going to be hard to take.
I’m going to die, he tells them.
I’m going to be rejected and cursed and betrayed and I am going to die.
This is the way it’s got to be.
Eat your vegetables, kids. Chew slowly, or you’ll choke. It’s the only way to get you all to understand that the path you’re on is the one of saccharin and falseness and destruction and death.
The path I offer is one that’s real and true and good and will lead to peace and hope and wholeness. But sometimes, that path won’t be clear to you. Sometimes it’l look a lot like death.
The leaders, the Sanhedrin, have rejected Jesus. Jesus knows he has infuriated them, and he knows what happens when you threaten the people who have the power.
That never ends well.
Jesus must go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the leadership, and die.
The human part of Jesus must just be so overwhelmed.
He’s been trying to get some time to himself, for oh, I don’t know, the last six chapters or something, and the crowds keep following him and the leaders keep rejecting him and his friends just don’t get it.
The leaders are plotting against Jesus.
The disciples are completely flummoxed by Jesus.
And the crowds just want a piece of him.
Jesus knows what happens when you anger the people in power.
And he knows what happens when even your friends don’t really understand you.
And he knows what happens when the masses get a hold of you and use you until you’re all used up.
Jesus has a whole lot of difficult meals ahead of him. He knows that you can’t have new life without death. He knows that a seed must fall to the ground and die before new growth can come. He knows he’s got a long walk to a long death.
And he chooses to keep going. To keep taking one more step. To step towards the leadership who hate him. To step towards the friends who don’t understand him. To step towards those throngs of people who will suffocate and trample him.
‘Cause he knows what comes out of the ground when you plant a seed. ‘Cause he’s made of so. much. love.
Because this is the nature of God.
He knows that sometimes you have to retrain your palate. You have to stop eating all that stuff that’s easy to digest, that stuff that’s easily consumed and then shat back out, in the same form that it came in, and you have to train yourself to taste real food again.
And here comes one of his best friends. The one who actually GOT IT. For a half a second, he GOT IT. And Jesus was thrilled that someone has finally understood what is going on here.
And here comes Peter with a big ol’ bag of Reese’s pieces.
Jesus, you don’t need to eat that stuff. You deserve the sweet stuff. The best stuff! You’re the Messiah! Eat dessert first!
And suddenly, just like that, The Rock is now the stumbling block.
‘Cause I really do think Jesus is tempted. Tempted to leave all this behind and buy the house in the suburbs and send the kids to private schools and preach with the headset at the megachurch next to the strip mall.
No wonder he has to reject Peter so roughly. So violently.
It’s in proportion to how tempting all that is.
The high fructose corn syrup life is so tempting. It’s sweet and it’s cheap and it’s everywhere and it’s fast and it’s so easily grown.
We’ve built so much out of this sugar.
We’ve built our relationships out of it. If it gets hard, or if we just aren’t feeling it anymore, or if we’re scared, we just poop it out.
Our corporations are made of the stuff - ready for the quick growth, the easy profit, and the mass crop, earth and soil and sustainability be damned.
And even our churches. We cater to those who give the money. We don’t stand up to the leadership. We go because we think we have to. Or because we want to “get something” out of it. We build huge buildings and let the poor go hungry. We walk around proclaiming an easy Gospel with easy answers and easy trips to heaven.
It’s a high fructose corn syrup life.
We just have to sit in our pens and eat our corn and get nice and fat. We think that’s all there is. Just us, and these bars and this mud and that trough over there, full of empty carbs.
And it’s all a stumbling block.
It’s making us tired and weak. It’s giving us short-lived bursts of energy followed by carb comas. It’s making our hair fall out.
This high fructose corn syrup life that we lead denies Jesus. It makes Jesus who he isn’t. It turns Jesus into a quick yes or no question and an “in” or “out” line in the sand, and a clear, easy trip around a calm pond, circling and circling in our canoes because it’s so easy, and so relaxing and aren’t we so lucky that we’ve chosen to be in the “right” pond?
Those poor saps, out there in the waves and the storms and hurricanes and climate change.
Are you tripping over all this sugar yet?
The high fructose corn syrup life is what Jesus is tempted by.
These are the human things that Jesus is talking about.
Not the flesh and the blood and the bodies and the sweat and the need. No. that’s exactly what Jesus was all about.
But the human things that Peter was focusing on, the things that we focus on, are those things that are simple, that are easily digested, those things that reject the hard work of death and rebirth. The hard work of a seed, falling to the ground, shedding it’s shell, and finally dying - that’s the divine stuff.
The human things are the things that go out in the same condition that they came in.
But heavenly things are all about transformation. About change and struggle and labor and new life. About protein and fiber and the stuff that rebuilds bones and regrows atrophied muscles.
You have set your mind on earthly things, not on divine things.
All that syrupy sweetness is enough to trip us up and make us fall.
We are all stumbling blocks.
And we’ve all stumbled.
Even Peter, the one who was closest to Jesus, the one who gets a direct message from God. I mean, c’mon, if HE didn’t get it, how are we supposed to? Good thing there’s grace… As commentator, Dale Allison writes, “if even the favored Simon, the rock of the church and recipient of divine revelation, did not grasp the truth, then, we may assume, that truth was hidden from all.” Phew. Good thing there’s grace.
But it’s not about getting it. It’s not about owning some kind of truth that then you have to sell to others.
It’s about taking the food that is offered to you, eating it, and being fed. It’s about the slow growth and the eventual death and the hard work of transformation.
It’s about digesting. And retraining your palate, and learning to crave the good stuff, the stuff that takes time and energy and requires work and yes, even death.
Jesus wants us to enter the real stuff of divine things. The really real. The real food with tastes and smells and sounds and and fear and feelings.
When you set your sights upon divine things, you’ll cry. You’ll mourn. You’ll question everything you thought was true. You’ll feel betrayed and alone. You’ll be crucified, too.
And then you’ll be born again. You’ll come out the other side, still with your scars, still with the holes in your hands and the wound in your side. But you’ll be whole. You’ll be born again. Born again to eat a real meal of real food with the real Jesus on the dirty, sandy, fishy beach. You’ll get to tell him you love him as you ask to pass the kale and the bread and the fish.
Come, eat the stuff that will keep you full. Come, eat the stuff that will feed you forever. Come have your fill.
Thanks be to God.