Welcome to our weekly program - A moment for spiritual growth - I am your host Beth Childs in studio 7 of the Heavenly Broadcasting Corporation here on the corner of Broadway and 73rd Street.
This Program is brought to you today by The Genuine Scottish Oats - producing the PERFECT morning cereals for 452 years. One bowl of our celestial porridge in the morning makes you feel like a strong Presbyterian inside out and all day long.
Beth: Now, Today I have with me in the studio a very special guest - Simeon, the fisherman, also known in Aramaic as Cephas, in Greek as Peter and in English as Rocky, preeminent disciple of Jesus, in some traditions head of the church and first bishop of Rome. St. Peter - welcome to our program.
Peter: Thank you for having me.
Beth: Without further ado I will start right away with the most intriguing question. I always wanted to ask you - did Jesus really call you Satan?
Peter: Yes he did. Or do you think that I made it up?
Beth: I did not mean that you made it up. What about the early church’s oral tradition? What about the evangelists? They write testimony about faith and not history. Aren’t they proverbially unreliable?
Peter: Oh yes, they occasionally embellished and improved some stories. Sometimes they even made up stories of their own to make a point. But do you think that they would have made up such an unflattering story about me - one of the founding pillars of the church?
Beth: So it is a fact! Jesus did call you Satan...
Peter: I hope you understand that at that time, and in that context, the word “Satan” had not yet developed into a strong mythical, supra-natural character. That happened later. At our time in Galilee SATAN simply meant “a seducer”, “an adversary”. It was a name for a function, not for a demonic character. It wasn’t another name for the devil, It wasn’t another name for the alter ego of God - the ruler of the dark worlds. SATAN in Hebrew, SATANA in Aramaic, simply meant “the adversary”.
Beth: Well, that is not all that helpful, is it? Satan or Seducer - how did you feel when your beloved master publicly called you seducer or ... ADVERSARY?
Peter: How did I feel? Awful! Horrible! But let me backtrack a little – earlier that day I felt very hopeful, elated, almost exuberant. On the way to Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked us, his closest disciples, a question - "Who do people say that I am?" And we were in seventh heaven! Finally he got realistic! He started to pay attention to public opinion! (At least, so we thought.) Finally we could engage popular emotions and expectations! Finally we could tap into that powerful fountain of public anger and hopes! In no time, we could get a real and realistic big movement going.
Until then, he was not real; he was losing so many potential supporters and powerful allies... At one moment, he was subverting Romans, the next time he healed a boyfriend of a Roman officer. One moment he criticized Pharisees, the next time he was at their table!
He was asking about public opinion; that was to us a good sign! And then he even asked us "But who do you say that I am?" - I was so happy, finally we were talking real business, finally I had a chance to let him know how we can easily change our movement to make a real impact in this world, I almost exclaimed, I burst out - "You are the Messiah." And he? He rebuked me! He publicly humiliated me for confessing him to be the Messiah!
Beth: Wait a moment, wait a moment! I thought that Jesus rebuked you only after you took him aside and started to talk him out of suffering?
Peter: Oh no, it happened just like that, as I said. He rebuked me right away. What you have in the Bible is a later attempt to explain it step by step, by sequencing it, dividing it into several consecutive steps. In reality it happened all at once. I was full of hope and joy and expectation. I confessed him to be the victorious Messiah, and right away he rebuked me and called me Satan, just for calling him the Messiah!
Beth: Aren’t people confessing Jesus as Messiah all the time? Does it mean that they (we?) are Satans?
Peter: That is a very good question. It all depends on what you mean by Messiah, the kind of meaning you put into this word. That is one of the reasons this story was divided into those several stages.
I called Jesus “Messiah” before the crucifixion and at that moment I wanted him to be a successful resistance leader who would change things by power from the top down. By ”Messiah” I meant the most successful and most powerful political figure, the avenger and victor.
After the crucifixion, after his suffering - it all means something different. Suddenly when someone who was crucified is called Messiah, you do not worship worldly political success! When you declare someone who was crucified Messiah, you are raising your voice in protest against any and all inhumanity, against all humiliation of the powerless. Declaring someone who was crucified as the Messiah, points above and beyond, to something bigger and higher and more glorious.
Beth: Whew! I am relieved. Since it is now after the crucifixion, we can call Jesus Messiah all the time...
Peter: Not so fast, not so fast - again it very much depends on the context and your intentions. When you call Jesus the Messiah or Saviour in the midst of suffering, or when you feel pain for other people, when you care for them and want to help them, if it is your protest against injustice -- then it is OK. But when you call Jesus Messiah for political or personal agendas, if you call him Messiah to keep the oppression and injustice going, If you call him Messiah, to keep people in darkness, or to gain or retain your privileges or the easy life or anything else - oh, then it becomes truly very questionable.
Beth: Aren’t people doing it all the time? Does it really mean that, at least to some degree, we are all Satans, tempters, and misunderstanding and misleading adversaries of the LORD?
Peter: I am afraid it really may be so, and that is also the reason I am happy that my unflattering story is preserved in the Bible. My reputation is less important than this important warning and spiritual lesson.
But please note, that Jesus didn’t say, “Go away Satan!” He said to me, “Satan, get behind me!” It can be translated, “Satan, follow!” He used the exactly same words which he used when he called me the first time to be his disciple! I was strongly rebuked, but I was not expelled. Even as a Satan, I was re-invited to discipleship.
Beth: Do I hear you correctly saying that at different times and in different forms we all misunderstand, manipulate, even abuse Jesus’ legacy, that we all can be called SATANS and yet he still calls us and urges us to follow him?
Peter: Yes, that is correct, Even though we are at times misled and are misusing his legacy for our own agendas, he still invites us to follow him. Jesus invites absolutely everybody to follow him, because in him and in his Gospel there is hidden this enormous power for good, which can endure the biggest temptations, master most difficult people and change even our most selfish agendas.
To use medieval church lingo - we are all sinners - and still we are all invited to follow him, and in that process many are transformed. Only in this way we are learning that, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus and his Gospel, will save it.”
Beth: Peter, who was once called Satan,...
Peter: and would deserve it many times over...
Beth: Peter, who was once called Satan, thank you very much.
Does anyone in our distinguished audience want to ask Peter a question?
If not, I would like to invite you to our next program - next week we will be discussing the life and words of Somali poet Cilmi Boodheri and the surprising power of love poetry.
(Now) As our closing litany we will affirm together our faith:
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (Adapted from The Confession of 1967)
God’s sovereign love is a mystery
beyond the reach of human mind.
Human thought ascribes to God
superlatives of power, wisdom, and goodness.
But God reveals divine love in Jesus Christ
by showing power in the form of a servant,
wisdom in the folly of the cross,
and goodness in receiving sinful people.
The power of God’s love in Christ
to transform the world discloses that
the Redeemer is the Lord and Creator
who made all things to serve
the purpose of God’s divine love.