“Peter answered.” Mark 8:29
In a time when political and public life has been marked by scandal, we expect actions in public life to match the words of those who occupy public office, but are we guilty of double standards? If we’re going to apply strict standards to public life, then we must apply them also to ourselves.
Jesus warns in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke that the measure we apply to others is the measure that will be applied to us. Does the way we speak, the way we behave, the way live our lives, match the words we say?
“What about you?” Jesus asks his followers. “Who do you say I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah. ”
Every Sunday, Christians profess the same faith as Peter. People stand and join in the Creed, reciting the the words that have been recited by countless generations. But when the people in the outside world look at us, what difference do they see? What evidence is there that words are matched by actions? What evidence is there that the faith professed in church is a faith has integrity?
Look at church leaders, are they people of greater integrity than politicians, and if they are not, do they deserve to command authority?
Peter makes his profession of faith and Jesus warns that if anyone says what Peter says then they are going to be expected to live up to what they say. There’s no option to say one thing and to do another. If what you do doesn’t match what you say, then you don’t deserve to be part of Jesus’ people. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That’s fairly clear and unmistakable, there is no option to be a Christian on a Sunday morning and do what we like the rest of the time.
What Jesus is saying is that he must come first, regardless of whatever priorities we might have ourselves. He is saying this not in the way that it might be said by the leader of some cult, or some extremist group, not as some leader who is looking for a fanatical following, but as someone who is concerned with what is best for his people, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it”. If life is centred on God, then all the priorities will be the right priorities, we will get a right perspective on things and live our life to its full potential.
What Jesus is not doing is making a promise that everything will always go well or that life will always be easy.
The teaching that being a Christian can mean expecting to become rich and successful is simply not found in the teaching of Jesus. The “prosperity theology” taught by some of the new churches, the preaching that believing in God will make you wealthy is not something you will find in the New Testament.
All of us know that doing the Christian thing is sometimes the hardest choice. Jesus’ promise is not about wealth or success, it is about choosing the way of doing things that is right for our long-term welfare, it is about choosing a way where life has a direction and a purpose, and where it does not end at a graveside.
What Jesus says he is offering is life and there cannot be a better option. Yet, given the best offer there is, how often do we still make other choices? When the best is on offer to us it doesn’t make sense to choose anything else, but we do. How often do our actions match our words? How often do we sound like politicians whose governance of the country is very far from the words of their manifesto? How many of us can honestly put our hands on our hearts and say that our faith is at the top of our list? Do the things that Jesus asks of us really take first place in our thinking? Being honest, aren’t we very lukewarm? There is always something that seems more attractive, something that seems more important, something else we feel that we need to do.
Jesus warns us, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
It was said that during the years of the Celtic Tiger here in Ireland that the new found wealth had caused the country to lose its soul. Yet when the wealth was lost, there was not much sign that the national soul was found again.
But can we stand in judgment on national and public life if we too have drifted from our faith, if matters of the soul have been relegated to the point where our social life and all our other considerations take priority over spiritual things. What is the point of having everything, yet losing our soul?
“Who do you say I am?” asks Jesus.
Peter answers him, “You are the Messiah.”
Do our lives match the words of Peter? When we look around us, at our political and public life, we expect to see integrity, we expect actions that match words, but do we see integrity when we look into our own hearts? When we stand to say the Creed do we think about our own life in the week ahead, will our actions match our words?
“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks us.