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Monday, August 29, 2011

You are an obstacle to me

Forgive me for being late with this post.  Hurricanes stop everything in their path and without electricity for the last couple of days there was little I could do. Right now I am  sitting in a McDonald's, using their free WiFi.

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Peter is one of my favorite gospel figures.  Anxious to help, sure of himself and committed to following the Lord, his impulsiveness often gets the best of him.  In last Sunday’s gospel, he quickly answers Jesus' inquiry: Who do you say that  am?  The Christ, Peter says, the Messiah.  Unfortunately, while Peter's answer is correct, his understanding is lacking.  He wants Jesus to be a kind of military leader who drives the Romans out of Jerusalem and reclaims the Holy City for the chosen people.  More, if Jesus is an earthly king, he probably thinks that his own position as a disciple will afford him enhanced status among his peers.  

In today's gospel, Peter stands up again for the Lord as a defender and protector, but this time the Lord’s response is harsh.  “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.”  Although I have often prayed not to be an obstacle for others, especially to their faith life and journey,  I know that my quick tongue and harsh judgments have often hurt others.

That is why I think it is so very important to develop simple practices to accept our faults and address our  anxieties. Rather than strike out verbally, we need to work for reconciliation and healing.  My parents suggested a way to do this when  they told me never to make important decisions quickly, to sleep on them and if possible to wait a week or more before acting. Later, a 12 step friend told me: Things that are are urgent are rarely important, and things that are important are rarely urgent. Had I listened more closely to my parents and friend, I might have saved myself and others unnecessary hurt.

In the light of Peter’s foolishness in wanting to defend Jesus (and perhaps your own), try developing the practice of counting to five when you are startled or upset before saying anything.  A friar I admire a great deal used this technique to overcame a lifelong habit of reacting angrily whenever he was upset.  He knew that if he could pause even for a few seconds he would catch himself before he said things he would soon regret.  And it worked.  Today you would think of him as the mildest of people, but he knows his own history of angry retorts. You might also want to consider a second practice. Offer a prayer of gratitude each time the practice of counting to five saves you embarrassment and your companions hurt.

There is always something in the gospel that can change our life. Today, try reading the scriptures not for insight but for transformation.  The Lord wants to change our lives, but we have to open ourselves to his power and love.

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