DIVINE THINGS – HUMAN THINGS

[Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
[Mark 8:33]

Courtesy: Reuters

This week being the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, there will be endless articles written and documentaries aired about the event that we have come to know simply as “9/11.”

On the 10th anniversary of that cataclysmic experience, I wrote a retrospective for the occasion. I was tempted to copy and paste that reflection for today’s post, but I will spare you the agony.  However, if you really want to read those words from a decade ago, you can find them by clicking HERE.

I am preaching this coming Sunday, and, in preparation, I gave the assigned readings my usual cursory glance on Monday. In the Gospel reading (Mark 8:27-38), Jesus’ rebuke of Peter jumped out at me.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you re setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The body of Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, is carried out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Courtesy: WBEZ.org)

In recent weeks I purposely have not read anything pertaining to 9/11, because I expect most of what is written or broadcast will focus on the anger, the retribution, and the effect the attacks have had on our society. We will watch once again, with revulsion, the graphic images of the destruction; infringe on the anguish of those who survived; grieve, with abhorrence, for those who did not.

Anyone who has witnessed these past 20 years knows all that; unless, of course, you’ve been living in seclusion or woefully ignorant.

And in light of the rage and the fear that overcame us as a nation after 9/11, and the changes that followed, how easy is it to set our minds on “divine things”?

How do we let go of the “human things” that have transformed us into a seemingly implacable people whose only goal is to annihilate anyone who carried out such atrocities on our soil, demolish anyone who doesn’t agree with us, or obliterate anything that gets in our way?

Jesus refers to Peter as “Satan.”

Wow! Here is a man who left his family and his way of life to follow Jesus, and Jesus basically calls him evil. How insulted, how degraded, how humiliated Peter must have felt!

But the harsh language of Jesus can be applied to all of us, individually and collectively. If we hold up a mirror, and honestly look at ourselves and our reaction to 9/11, we see Peter.

We covet a life of comfort, a life of contentment, a life that is concerned with no one other than ourselves. Anything or anyone that disrupts that is automatically rejected. If the disruption persists, we do whatever it takes to eliminate it, even if it means turning on each other!

9/11 was such a situation. It turned our way of life upside down, and we responded in typical, “human” fashion.

It is interesting and somewhat ironic that as we enter these days of remembrance, the United States military is evacuating Afghanistan, the country it invaded or the very purpose of extracting revenge. It is, in a way, an acknowledgement that the “human things” on which our country and our society have set our minds, have not worked.

Jesus proposes a different way: set our minds on “divine things.”

Those “divine things” stand out in stark contrast to the “human things” that we, like Peter, have set our minds on.

In the coming week(s), there will be plenty of opportunities to explore how we can live a life focused on the “divine things” that Jesus asks that we set our minds on.

One that immediately comes to mind is acting to offer a sign of welcome to those affected by the war in Afghanistan. There will be refugees arriving on our shores, many of whom aided our troops while serving on Afghan soil. How can we be, for them, a witness that our minds are set on “divine things”?

There are no cookie cutter suggestions. How one does that is up to each of us individually.

If I may be so bold, I would encourage your support of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It is an organization that has been doing the work of refugee resettlement for more than 80 years. Even now they are at the forefront of the Afghan resettlement process.

We cannot undo, nor erase, the effects of 9/11.

But as followers of Jesus, we can show the world that we are called to respond as Jesus would, by committing ourselves to a life of service and sacrifice, though it may be difficult, and even painful.

We are in this world, but not of it, as Jesus teaches us elsewhere in the Gospels. As we journey on this earth, our Christian faith is lived in this unavoidable tension.

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