Monday, December 12, 2016 Monday after the Third Sunday of Advent
2 Peter 1.1–11
The text of the readings follows after the comments.
The past few days’ gospel readings have been from the portion of the Gospel according to Luke describing the events from Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem up to his betrayal today and his arrest and the beginning of the trial tomorrow. The events of this time in Jerusalem leading up to his trial and judgment parallel what is to happen in the Second Coming – a time of distress leading up to judgment, only this time it is Jesus who is the judge, not the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.
The action of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a very human moment: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” After all, who wants to go through pain and suffering that leads to death? According to the four gospels Jesus was aware of his impending death. We can put that down to either a realistic apprehension according to his human nature (after all, the Romans had executed many Jews before Jesus), or perhaps a divine foreknowledge; the gospels do not say and aren’t interested in how Jesus knew. But Jesus does not act like someone who believed that everything was pre-determined, for he asks that his Father might “remove this cup” from him. But in the end he puts his trust in the Father: “Yet, not my will but yours be done.”
There are many theories about the atonement. My own belief is that in a fallen, broken world – that is, one that is estranged from God – it follows that if God became human then estranged humanity would seek to destroy the incarnation. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see that estrangement overcome in a particular individual. By participation in the Body of Christ – the church, the followers of Jesus – we estranged humans can overcome the divide, and, as St. Athanasius put it: Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν For God became human so that we might become God. This participation in Christ does not mean that we become part of God or is absorbed into the Godhead – we remain creatures – but we become holy, even as God is holy, and we become the creatures God made us to be. The incarnation – an overcoming of the estrangement and the offering of participation in this reconciliation – is an indictment and rebuke to the world that persists in sin and corruption. So it seeks to kill the incarnate one for whatever reason. Christ, in his humility, as a servant, accepts his identity as opposed and oppressed, aligning himself with the great masses of humanity throughout the millennia who have suffered at the hands of the rich and powerful. For me the Father wills the death of Jesus at the moment of the Incarnation.
Jesus accepts this, and trusts in the prospect of the resurrection. But then trust is broken, when Judas comes to betray Jesus with a kiss. Again, Jesus seems to have expected this, and did not take steps to stop it. One of the disciples (unnamed here and in Mark and Matthew, but in John identified as Simon Peter) attacks with the sword. He’s rather clumsy, and only manages to cut off the ear of a slave, not even harming one of the officials or armed guards. Even then Jesus has had enough, and heals the slave. Is it the case that taking up arms to defend Jesus itself is also a great betrayal? Remember that the early Christians were all pacifists, and it was considered necessary for Christian converts to abandon occupations such as the military and the judiciary where one might have to kill or order the execution of people (this only changed after the time of Constantine, in the 4th century). Was Peter’s attack a fourth denial of Jesus?
Trust once lost is hard to regain. The trust that Jesus had in the Father was vindicated when Jesus was raised from the dead. The betrayal of Judas was never undone because Judas believed himself unforgivable, and so he killed himself. The violence and denials of Simon Peter was undone by a love greater than death, a power stronger than estrangement, and a willingness to suffer in the face of brokenness. Peter became the leader of the early church, despite all his flaws and some embarrassment of the church around him. Jesus, in the end, trusted him to feed his sheep.
Trust once lost is hard to restore, but with God, all things are possible.
Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. See, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. Now if people say to you, ‘Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and for instruction?’ surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn! They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry; when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their gods. They will turn their faces upwards, or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 Peter 1.1–11
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’