“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks.
Peter gulps. He’s been put on the spot, he’s got cards in his hand but he has to play them. Either he’s dead on and he’s talking to the climax of history, he’s allying himself with the right hand of Yahweh himself…or he’s going to an insane asylum when the lunatic he puts his faith in makes a break out of town. Either way, the cards are in his hand and he’s got to play them. He takes a deep breath, and looks him in the eye: “I think you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus nods, and smiles, just a little- like all the mountains and all the hills were a mustard seed Peter had planted. Like the words “good and faithful servant” exist solely for the purpose of describing Peter. Jesus, the Messiah, The I AM That Is And Was, looks at him and says: “Blessed are you.
“Blessed are you”, the words rang with the grace for eternity! The grace for the next moment, when…
Then Jesus turns, and pauses for a moment. “So,” Jesus continues, speaking to the rest of them, “Now we must go to Jerusalem. Just a heads up, I’m going to suffer quite a bit at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes.”
Peter squints, confused.
“And they will kill me,” Jesus finishes and the rest of his disciples gasp a little. They look scared. Betrayed. Confused. But Peter’s not confused- Jesus is making a mistake. And he doesn’t realize it! He keeps going: “Though on the third day I wi-“
Jesus feels a hand take his arm, grab him, and pull him away halfway through his sentence. Peter turns Jesus to face him. “What do you think you’re doing?” He asks him. “Do you have any idea what you’re saying? God help us, have you read the Torah? Have you taken a moment to consider the oppression these people are facing? We need liberation, not someone to come along and get killed with us! Did you come to add to our misery? To add to our confusion? Far be it from you!!” He takes a deep breath. “If you’re God then start acting like him!”
Jesus does not react physically, his jaw doesn’t even quench. But the fire of an eternal rebellion, his hatred for Lucifer and all the armies of evil He’s about to conquer, burn deep within them and Peter’s hand loses it’s power and falls from Christ’s arm to his side.
“Who,” Jesus says, in a whisper so low it cuts through all the normal words of life and burns into Peter’s memory.
“Who in all of hell,” Jesus says, “ Do you think you are… that you might presume to tell God who He is.” Jesus turns and redirects himself to the crowd, not before uttering an unforgettable phrase to Peter’s befuddled and bleeding ears: “Get behind me Satan!”
Until we realize we are all idolaters, we have no hope of seeing past our idols, contrived beliefs and perceptions of God so we can actually begin to glimpse God passing behind the storm cloud. We have no hope of seeing the God disappearing in the fog; of glimpsing the only part of him we can still glimpse and possibly survive long enough to comprehend. Until we learn to call God by another name, or better yet no name, to hear the phrase “Allah” and realize it’s our English “God” just in a foreign tongue, until we can promote ourselves to seeing God as the Divine, the Great Healer and Judge, until we un-name God and in doing so smash our golden calves, we are just the Israelites balking at our golden calf and wondering where the hell Moses has gotten too.
There’s a reason the Orthodox Church holds strongly to the mystery of God, to the unknowing aspects of God. Rather than utter what God is, and risk heresy, they proclaim what God is not. There’s a reason the Israelites refused to spell out God’s name, a reason they quivered upon hearing it, and a reason that his many names throughout the Old Testament range from “I AM” to “God of Jacob, Isaac…” to “The Lord Your God The Lord Is One”. The reason is because none of these names contain the Divine. None of them begin to describe him. They’re just words attached to an object and given to us, because without a name attached to something, our minds cannot comprehend that something exists. We cannot grasp the unnamed potential of eternity.
Love God, I boldly and adamantly declare. This is the foundation of who I am and how I live. I am not a believer in inclusivism or universalism, but I am a believer in Mystery. I am not a believer in pluralism, in anything goes, in being so open minded that your mind itself falls out. But I am a believer in the existence of relative experiences. I am a believer in relative experiences which point to the absolute truth of the Universal, the Universal I Am, the Universal Beyond Words, The One Who Is And Am And Will.
I am a believer in stepping back from my golden calf and contemplating that perhaps this isn’t the best way to melt the gold. I’m a believer in pausing when I write an essay on anti-abortion, in reflecting on my stance on social justice, homosexuality, tattoos and binge drinking, pausing while I take a hymnal out of the church pew and proceed to sing the words in a worshipful manner because it’s the best way I know how.
I’m a believer in rethinking the ways in which I build my Babeling Towers of intellect and critical thinking. In contemplating such, I hope to realize that the tower I’m building is itself a horrible idea, that the golden calf before me isn’t just a little off kilter, but is actually nothing more than culture’s idea of what and who God should be meanwhile the real Divine is a moment away from mixing up our languages and truly befuddling the hell out of us. His goal is not just to confuse us- per say, though that is a comedic and retributive side effect, but to give us a shot at expressing ourselves in a thousand different manners and hopefully this time finally figuring out how to express the idea of God. Of course, thousands of years later, we still haven’t gotten it right. We still attach God with political parties, personal agendas and individual moralities. Our towers still stand, still fall, and are still rebuilt day after day.
If we are to love God, then we must do just that. We must love God more than just our idea of God, more than our preconceived notions of God, more than the impulse to tell our Savior “what the hell do you think you’re doing? This isn’t how you’re supposed to act”. If we have a chance of accomplishing this, then perhaps we have to start with unthinking our ideas of God. Perhaps we have to start with disbanding cultural platitudes and seeking the Mystery afresh and anew. Perhaps we have to start not with just our hearts, just our heads and just our hands, but with all of them at the same time. Perhaps we have to start with realizing that grace surrounds us every moment, that conclusions are okay as long as they are not golden calves set in stone. Perhaps we have to start with the realization that loving God requires loving God above all else, above our hopes for God, our hopes for salvation, our hopes for redemption, morality and all the liberation the world might find. We have to start with loving God above our holy and sacred ideas of God.
Perhaps what this really means that we have to start with unstarting, as T.S. Eliot penned, arriving at the place we began and truly knowing it for the first time. It means we have to find ourselves bowed over in humility, laying at the foot of a wooden cross, the most despicable and humiliating form of execution on which the Atoning Sacrifice was hung. It means we have to face each day with a mind that is open to the possibilities of lives that are not our own and a plan for redemption stretches beyond us and out to the entire cosmos. Perhaps it means we have to start everything in prostrate prayer, fists clenched, begging, crying over and over again: “I believe, open my eyes so I can see! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Help my unbelief!”
Yes, perhaps we have to start there.
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