Weekly Seeds: Confrontation
Sunday, September 3, 2023
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Year A
Mighty God, infuse us with courage to confront hard truths and to do hard things. Amen.
21 From 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But 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.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For 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. 28 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.”
All readings for this Sunday:
Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b • Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8 • Romans 12:9-21 • Matthew 16:21-28
How do you handle being confronted?
What approach do you take when confronting others?
What makes confrontation challenging?
Why is confrontation necessary and what benefits can it reap?
What truth needs confronting in the church and in the world?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
One day I was leaving the church office late into the evening. The sun had long gone down, and I was the only one leaving that part of the building. When I got in my car and started to drive off, I noticed someone kneeling on the ground. As I got closer to this person, who appeared to be a woman, I realized she was digging and she wasn’t alone. There was a man standing by her who held what appeared to be a metal instrument. It looked almost like a golf club except it had a wide and flat circle on the end of it. I rolled down my window part way and asked incredulously, “what are you doing?”
“Looking for metal” was the reply. They seemed both startled and surprised. (The building had an overhang in front of it and I had driven through without turning on my lights.) Still, they must have been concentrating pretty hard not to notice my SUV starting and then approaching them. “What?” I asked even more incredulity than before. “This is private property. You can’t do this. You need to leave.” The voice in my head that warned me this could be dangerous was the only thing that kept me sitting in the car. They nodded and started to walk away. Only then did I realize my heart was racing. And, only then did it occur to me that I should alert the local law enforcement. I gave them a call, explained what happened, and started (again) to make my way home still reflecting on their actions, my brave (and possibly reckless) response, and the confrontation that resulted.
Confrontation can take place suddenly like that experience, or it can slowly simmer to a boiling point. In the gospel account, there seems to be a combination of both. In the Matthean account, Jesus is constantly transitioning from location to location or from teaching to demonstration. This passage also begins with words of transition that indicate a shift in his ministry and discipling of those who have been called to follow him as part of his inner circle. His movement toward Jerusalem is more than a casual trip to a known destination; the shift in the journey signals that his ministry is approaching its climax and fulfillment of the Messianic promise:
The affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah is the turning point of the Gospel. A transition is signaled by the words “from that time on …”(16:21), and Jesus begins to make his way toward Jerusalem. Although he does not arrive there for several chapters, the journey begins in principle with his teaching about the passion. He now teaches the disciples about what it means to be the Messiah and what lies ahead for him in Jerusalem. This is the first of three teachings on the passion ahead (17:22–23; 20:17–19). Jesus is on a collision course with the powers represented in Jerusalem—political, economic, and religious. The “elders” he mentions here would be the lay members of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, supporters of the Sadducees (including the “chief priests”). The “scribes” would be the authoritative interpreters of the law. All these hold power and all stand in opposition to Jesus.
That opposition was overt and hostile, but there is opposition found in this text that comes from Peter, the disciple that Matthew highlights to represent all who follow Jesus. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus may seem innocuous, but Jesus responds vehemently and seemingly beyond proportion to the moment. Jesus understands, however, how more insidious opposition can derail the movement. There’s nothing to suggest that Peter has ill intentions or is siding with the perspective of those oppositional elders Jesus identifies. Peter has been willing to follow Jesus completely and beyond any other disciple, including walking on water. Yet, Peter does not seem to get it. Jesus has a mission and a way to fulfill it.
Peter may understand that Jesus is the Messiah, but he does not yet understand what it means to be the Messiah. He seems to have his own ideas about that. Perhaps Peter still holds an unreconstructed hope for a powerful king or mighty warrior that will reign in triumph and put down Israel’s enemies. The disciples were unprepared for “the notion that Israel’s eschatological champion should suffer a shameful death … The Christian message of a crucified Messiah, while merely foolishness to Greeks was a real stumbling block to Jews”37 (1 Cor. 23–24). Whatever Peter’s vision of the Messiah, it did not include suffering and dying.
If Jesus allows Peter’s rebuke to go unchallenged, it could derail the ministry. Jesus confronts Peter’s resistance to the way that Jesus will serve as Messiah. The journey matters as much as the outcome.
Further, Jesus continues the reframing of the reign of God he has taught throughout the gospel narrative (most explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount) and has demonstrated through the miracle stories. God’s reign does not come from a military victories or conventional notions and displays of human power; Christ’s glory is realized through a journey through humiliation:
Jesus’ death has implications for disciples. Peter, the hero of the previous scene, rejects Jesus’ teaching; Jesus allies him with the devil against God (16:22–23). Jesus also declares that disciples walk the way of the cross, thereby specifying how he will die (16:24). Crucifixion was a shameful form of execution reserved for those who challenged the imperial status quo. Jesus calls his followers to discipleship of this same style and consequence, continuing his mission until his return (16:27–28).
To be clear, the death of Jesus is not to glorify suffering and humiliation but to overcome them. Death loses its sting as Jesus endures the worst the world could offer. Creation will attempt to destroy Creator, but it will not work. The reign of God will prevail, and the Messiah will be glorified. The journey to those heights will necessitate a path that goes through the deepest depths. It cannot be avoided; therefore, it must be confronted.
Jesus’ announcement of his imminent suffering in 16:21 provides a plot summary for the rest of the Gospel. His confrontation with the alliance of power in Jerusalem is the inevitable consequence of challenging the status quo with an alternative vision and practices. Yet his opponents do not have the final word or ultimate power. God will raise him from the dead. The understanding of resurrection as God’s vindication of those who suffer faithfully, even to death, emerged in the second century BCE under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 12:1–3; 1 Macc. 1–2; 2 Maccabees 7).
Like Peter, we might struggle with the idea that Jesus’ struggle was an integral part of his glory. We chafe against the Sovereign sending his Child to die. But, everyone and everything that lives eventually dies. It’s part of what makes life what it is. Even had Jesus lived to a ripe old age, he would have eventually died as part of being fully human. It was also entirely predictable that a violent society would have met the radical and revolutionary teaching of Jesus with violent resistance. Jesus prevailed because he confronted that reality and prepared himself at the same time that he attempted to prepare his disciples.
What truth do we need to confront in order to further the ministry of Christ’s church, to spread the message of God’s love, and to release our siblings, including creation, from the bonds of shame and despair? Sometimes, it’s the big things like recognizing when a ministry has reached its end and it’s time to confront the legacy they may leave. At other times, it’s making a decision about the allocation of ministry resources and priorities.
Faithful confrontation rests on our commitment to the kindom of God over patriotism, political affiliations, and the pressure of our peers. Confrontation values long-term peace over short-term agreement. Confrontation, like sharing the truth in love, is an act of hope that challenges the conventions of our time, our communities, and even our family systems with a future of the possible over the inevitable. Confrontation, in faith, leads to life abundantly and flourishing. It’s a key to embracing the kindom.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait
For further reflection
“A confrontation, most importantly one with ourselves, is what needs to take place in order for true awareness, change, and healing to occur.” ― Kristina Smeriglio
“This is one of the marks of a truly safe person: they are confrontable.” ― Henry Cloud
“When we start raising different inconsistent truths, life may tip into bewilderment and the brain may go haywire. The confrontation between what is, not is, and maybe is, might embed an enduring showdown, harboring an intense apprehension, and bring us sometimes unwittingly to our knees.” ― Erik Pevernagie
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (firstname.lastname@example.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
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