Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. A young man flew through space accompanied by a robot. He felt called to be something special, to be a champion of good in the face of evil that was consuming the universe. And his name happened to be Luke Skywalker. He came a very damp swamp in search for a master teacher, named Yoda, and when he landed there was nothing but swamp everywhere. The first being he found that could talk to him was a funny little creature, with big floppy ears and a strange way of talking. This cute little elfish looking creature acted too dumb and looked too inconsequential to be much help, but if you know the story or you know how stories go, this unimportant looking little person turned out to be the great Jedi master. Soon it was Luke that was trying to convince him that he was more than he seemed, and could be a good student.
During the stay there, his spaceship manages to sink under the swamp, and Luke despairs of raising it again. He has been doing some exercises on using the Force to raise things, but when Yoda tells him that he himself can raise the ship. Luke makes the effort to raise the ship, but after failing miserably, the master teacher shows him how its done. Luke says: “I can’t believe you did that.” Yoda’s response was: “That is why you fail.”
Today’s Gospel reading finds a different teacher and a different lesson. It’s tough to figure what Jesus looked like when he walked on the earth, but from other passages in the Gospels, he must have had an ability to blend in with the crowd, considering how many times he pops up out of nowhere or disappears just when a bunch of people want to through him off a cliff. He may have been a very ordinary looking person, not terribly tall or distinguished, and his appearance may have cause some potential disciples to say: “Him? A teacher? No way. Are you kidding?” So Jesus is sitting with the few people who are willing to accept him as a teacher.
This point is the turning point of the Gospel of Mark. Until now, Jesus hasn’t been definitely identified as the Messiah: the demons know, but Jesus won’t let them talk. He’s moved around a lot, and although his reputation has grown he’s been very ambiguous about who he is and what he’s doing. So they’re sitting around, class is in session, the teacher is talking with his students. The test is the question that the Gospel has been avoiding up till now: who do you say that I am? And Peter is the star pupil, he is the first of Jesus disciples to see him for who he is. That’s why he gets the new name: on this rock I shall build my church. This is a beginning of where we are now.
And Peter goes right ahead and shows us how we can stumble into wrong answers after we’ve made our first breakthrough. Jesus comes clean and tells us exactly what kind of Messiah he is, the kind Isaiah told us of years before, and Peter has to take Jesus aside and say: “Hey teach, you’ve got it wrong. You’re supposed to unite everybody, overthrow the Romans, and set up a Davidic kingdom. This suffering stuff is all wrong; you shouldn’t be talking about that.”
So the star pupil becomes the failing star pupil. When Jesus calls Peter Satan, he’s using that in the old Jewish sense of the word: in Hebrew Satan meant adversary or obstacle. Peter’s view of the Messiah is getting in Jesus’ way. Jesus isn’t going to be who we think he should be.
Jesus isn’t going to be what we think he ought to be. That’s perhaps the contact I’d like to make between Luke Skywalker’s disbelief and Peter’s. What both of them think is impossible is what makes it impossible for the miracle to happen. Raising a spaceship out of a swamp is impossible, so you can’t do it. But, with belief it got done. A man raising up from the dead after three days is impossible, so it can’t happen. Common sense. It doesn’t take a great student to see that. But disbelieving that makes a lot of things impossible. Like salvation from sin. Like comfort in our weakness, like healing from our pain. Like a way to live that bypasses all the expectations that seem to keep us from being the people that God wants us to be.
Who do we say Jesus is? We get a break since Peter’s already answered it for us, although we need to think through what that means. Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, all the time. How does our belief affect our lives everyday? Where do we expect to see Jesus? In the Eucharist, we expect to see him in flesh and blood. After we receive Communion, do we expect to see Jesus all round us? St. Augustine challenged his people to become what they ate and drank. After communion, Jesus is not only all around us, Jesus is inside us part of us. We are called to take Christ to the world, at least, the world around us. If Jesus gets anything done around here, it’s because we get it done. It doesn’t matter who impossible it seems, even if seems as impossible as raising a spaceship from a swamp.
Believe, and let that get you to do the impossible.