Mark 8:27-35 | 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
The God Who Cannot Be Manipulated
As I read this gospel passage, I reflected on the similarities poor Peter has with all of us. Initially, Peter got it just right—he knew Jesus was the Messiah! But just a few short verses later, Peter was in Jesus’s doghouse. Understanding Jesus’s identity hadn’t changed Peter on any sort of fundamental level. Peter had his vision, honed by years of expert Jewish authority, of what the Messiah was going to do. But the opinion of Peter and the “experts” was not Jesus’s reality. However, instead of bowing to Jesus, Peter pulled Jesus to the side and tried to manipulate the situation. He explained to Jesus that rather than be a suffering figure, the Messiah was to lead the Jews to a grand victory. And so Peter got a talking to.
Don’t we all act just like Peter? So much of our prayer, and perhaps the whole of our religious, life is a veiled attempt to manipulate God, often out of the best of intentions. But the purpose of prayer is not manipulative; it’s relational. True prayer is not a to-do list for God, but time to get to know Him and for Him to get to know us. The most precious gift of all is time, and time spent in prayer is love, and love is never manipulative. But, as humans, we, just like Peter, don’t think “as God does but as human beings do” (v. 33), and so we work hard to make things come out as we think they should from our limited perspective.
Like Peter, we all get some things about Jesus just right, while at the same time, totally miss out on other equally important dimensions of Him. The problem is, we get that first thing right and then think we totally understand Him. Using our truncated understanding and our own inflated sense of importance, we put a very human definition onto Jesus, who though human, is also fully divine. He can’t fit into the boundaries we put around Him, no matter how hard we try to make the box work. When He doesn’t fit, we blame Him and not our own narrow perspective.
As a human with a human agenda, I don’t know how to change this dynamic. I think Jesus understands and asks us only to be willing to reframe our thinking, to be open to God’s work in our lives even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. This sort of openness is guaranteed to bring about humility. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, God delivers a zinger. At that point, we can rage against the zinger, try to find our way around the zinger, or we can explore the zinger and see what God might be offering.
Initially, Peter raged against the zinger by “pulling Jesus aside and rebuking Him” (v. 32). Peter wanted to avoid a suffering Messiah at all costs. But, eventually, Peter recognized that his way was not God’s way and not only accepted the zinger, but he became a leader in the same church that delivered the zinger. Peter learned God cannot be manipulated, no matter how good our intentions. May our own prayer life be equally fruitful.