‘The wrong kind of leaves on the line.’ As a London commuter I used to get the train into work every day. When you use a train several hundred times a year, you get used to delays! This quote is one of the best known reasons given for a train being held up; to be honest it wasn’t announced to the passengers on a train I was sat on, but was reported in the local paper as the best excuse of the year – it’s become something of an urban myth or legend!
We might laugh at the wrong kind of leaves – but I’m sure all of us can relate to the frustration of finding that we’ve got the wrong thing for the job. A bayonet light bulb when we needed a screw-in; a flat head screwdriver when we needed a Phillips, and so on.
Sometimes, having the wrong thing for the job is more serious, especially when it comes to people in positions of influence. Perhaps the most important job in all of human history is on the line in today’s reading. God’s people had been waiting hundreds of years for a special, anointed rescuer, called ‘Messiah’. Many prophets had testified, and periodically the people got into a frenzy of excitement over a potential contender.
Jesus’ ministry had got everyone talking: could this be The One? The real Messiah, come to set God’s people free? We saw in our last reflection how Jesus was starting to wonder if anyone around him would finally see… and here, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter has his moment of inspiration, and, at last, utters those famous words: ‘You are the Messiah.’
In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus praises Peter at this point for sharing what Jesus considers to be a moment of divine revelation. He then goes on to say what Mark also records here, to give the Messiah’s job description: to suffer unjustly, be executed, and then rise from the dead.
To which Peter immediately interrupts: but Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t the Messiah’s job description: the Messiah is a great military leader who’ll defeat our oppressors and liberate the land. This is the Messiah we need for the job!
We know the end of the story. It turns out Jesus was just the right Messiah for the job, a job far bigger than Peter imagined – that of liberating the human race from our universal oppressors: sin, evil, Satan and death. But today, let’s not lose sight of just how radical a message this was; and also to receive this healthy reminder that we can all be tempted to make Jesus fit our expectations. Sometimes, the message of the gospel is not always what we want: but it is always what we need! And may the living Christ be all you need today.