Think of someone who is successful. Why do you think they are successful? What’s the measure?
Are you successful? How do you know?
Our human nature is to strive to be prosperous, strong, influential. Doesn’t God want us to be successful? Don’t we thank God for our successes—calling them “blessings”?
Peter and the other disciples have experienced Jesus’ “success.” They have seen Jesus cure people, cast out demons, feed thousands, challenge the powerful, teach crowds in amazing ways. He is amazingly strong and influential! Everything you’d think a successful person would do. Everything we think a successful church should do.
So imagine how shocked these disciples were to hear Jesus saying that success means suffering, rejection, death. And when Peter tries to question that view of success—because, after all, that just doesn’t make any sense—Jesus calls him Satan. He says that Peter’s human view of success is not of God. It is merely human, satanic. If Peter believes that human views of success are God’s views, then Peter is standing in God’s way, and he needs to back down and get out of Jesus’ way. Because God has a mission, and God will be successful. God’s reign of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and generosity has come into the world, and in Jesus it is taking on the powers of human success head on.
Even though it will cost Jesus his life. Even though it will look to all the world as if Jesus has failed. And in the face of all that Jesus is still adamant that this is God’s success. He brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and generosity into the world regardless of how inconvenient it is. No matter the cost to him. So, Peter, if you’re not on board with that then “get behind me, Satan.” The world will be loved and we will be forgiven. Period. That is Jesus’ mission; therefore, as his church, it is ours too.
So how did the church get so far off track?
When did the church become more concerned about gaining members and money than about forgiveness and grace? When did Christ’s church begin to put its members’ comfort and convenience ahead the inconvenience of showing God’s love and mercy in the world?
Go to almost any Christian congregation of any denomination and it won’t be long before you hear the priority of human success. “How big is the church?” “This outreach program is fine, but will it bring in new members?” “How do we get more people inside our doors?” “How’s the budget?”
Peter would stand with us in using these as measures of success. Because in our world they make sense; from a human perspective they make sense. If our human measures are successful, we appear strong, prosperous, influential to the world. We gain status and respect in the world.
But if we hold that as a higher measure of success than forgiving the unforgiveable and loving the unloveable, then Jesus tells us to get behind him, because we are not contributing to God’s success.
Christ’s church can’t make decisions based on how many people like them. The church can’t back off loving the neighborhood because some withhold offerings. If we were merely a human institution those views might make sense. But we are not just a human organization. We are the body of Christ. We are called by God into God’s success. Even if it is painful. Even if it is hard. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it costs us. Even if it leads us toward the cross.
Ironically, Jesus says it’s following him to the cross that leads us to success and life. Isn’t that a kick? God is successful. The world is loved. The world is forgiven. Even the church. Even you. And nothing will stop Jesus from continuing to bring that love and grace to you. Even if it costs him. God will succeed. God already has. God’s love surrounds you now. You are absolutely forgiven now. Perhaps, as the church, we will find that successful. Because apparently Jesus does.