This week has seen the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There is a twist in the long plot of Harry Potter (SPOILERS!) where it is discovered that Harry may not have been ‘the one’ after all. The prophesy was a little vague, the child born in July we assumed to have been Harry, could just as easily have been the hapless Neville Longbottom:
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the 7th month dies.
Both Harry and Neville’s parents were members of the original Order of the Phoenix and had defied Voldemort three times, and both had been born at the end of July – the prophesy could have been about either of them, but Harry is the one who has been marked out.
In a sense the same could be said of Jesus and prophets who had come before him, especially John the baptist who was born less than a year before Jesus. Both had miraculous births, which had been foretold and both would find themselves sacrificing their lives. Read today’s gospel passage here.
When Jesus asks who people think that he is, the names of two former prophets spring to everyone’s mind. The fact that these two have already died, seems to hold no barrier to their beliefs, but that Jesus could be ‘the one’ was a huge stumbling block for everyone.
When Jesus asks Peter:
Who do people say that I am?
Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Those in the John the Baptist camp, would have seen the similarities between the two men, related by birth and born in what we would term the same ‘academic year’. Both preached about the coming of the kingdom and the need for repentance, both had their own disciples and followers, both caused a stir in the status quo. But John had been decapitated – his death, though, was not a public execution, perhaps there were those who didn’t believe that John had really died, rather that he had taken on a new identity. After all, John had come to prepare the way for the one who was to come, one greater than him. Perhaps with family likenesses of the face, all John needed to do was have a shave and change out of his camel hair attire and he would have been the spitting image of Jesus, and vice versa?
Those in the Elijah camp would have been reminded of the promise of Elijah’s return, and indeed, Jesus will shortly be ‘transfigured’ and as he does so Elijah (and Moses) will appear alongside him. There were other similarities between the two great preachers, both were able to perform miracles, heal the sick, multiply food and raise the dead. In Jesus, the Israelites were seeing the stories they had been told since childhood come to life, and with prophecy of Elijah’s return to herald the Messiah, excitement was growing. The Elijah camp were looking in the right direction but couldn’t see what was in front of them.
Those in the Jeremiah camp could see the similarities between the teachings and actions of the prophet and the rabbi before them, as John P Parsons writes:
The prophet Jeremiah clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Yeshua were called to deliver the judgement of God upon sinful man. Both lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense both were ‘prophets of doom’ who became ‘enemies of the Jewish state’. Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the people turned away from their sin and turned to God with all their hearts. Both were ‘weeping prophets’ who lamented over the City of Jerusalem. Both were misunderstood and persecuted by the people of their day. Both rejected the Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both condemned the ‘religious’ reinterpretation of the Torah….
Those who saw in Jesus John, Elijah, Jeremiah or any of the other prophets were looking back to a golden age and placing in the things gone by, a hope for the future, a hope for their present.
Peter, however, saw something new. Peter didn’t look back to what had gone before, but was looking forwards to what can be, to what Jesus can bring, and is excited to be a part of it. Peter looks at Jesus and knows that he isn’t history being repeated, he is the future present, he is the Kingdom come.
And as Jesus hears these words from Peter he rejoices, ‘by Jove I think he’s got it’, to borrow from Pygmalion. It is this new understanding, this fresh approach to faith that will form the bedrock of the new way of faith in God. Peter may be headstrong, he may jump in with both feet without thinking things through, but he does so with a passion, a love for God that is true and his eyes fixed upon a vision of the future restored by the Messiah’s, by Jesus’ presence in it.
We are challenged by Peter’s visionary thinking. Humans have a tendency to look back to a golden age. An age when the sun shine all summer long and the harvests were plentiful, when there were enough jobs to go around and it always snowed at Christmas. Perhaps we look back to a golden age when nobody had to work on Sundays and marriages never crumbled to divorce, when churches were full and children were happy and obedient. Politicians win elections by promising to make their nations ‘Great’ again. But was it ever so?
Truth is, life has not been perfect since Adam and Eve shared a forbidden picnic. When we look back, we do so with rose tinted glasses, blocking out the things that we don’t want to remember. The world will only be perfect again when Jesus returns to restore it. In the meantime, we are left with as much brokenness as there has always been, but we are also left with hope and a sense of purpose. Just like Peter we are challenged to build God’s kingdom in the here and now: to love as God loves, to serve as Jesus serves, and to worship as Holy Spirit does.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- What moment would you look back on as being your ‘golden’ time in your walk with Jesus? What makes it ‘golden’ in our memory?
- Is it possible to make every age a golden one? How?
- If there was something you could change within your worshipping community to make it golden again, what would it be?
- What do you think that would achieve?
- How can we look forward as Peter did?
- How can we look towards, and act towards, ‘Kingdom come’?
Something to pray:
Loving Lord, once more we would confess our faith in you, acknowledging you as the Messiah, the son of the living God, the one who sets us free and brings us life.
Help us to honour you not only in words but also through living faithfully as your people, your Body, your Church, working for and witnessing to your kingdom n word and deed.
Receive our worship, receive our faith, for your name’s sake. Amen.