Take some time and look at the image on the insert of your bulletins. What do you see? (have congregation tell what they first say) Our first instinct is to say a rabbit. But if you look at a different way you might see a duck. I love little optical illusions like this and many others. However, the point of this exercise is to show us that as human beings we have certain perceptions that shape how we see things in life and in the world. And this was no different for the disciples learning under the tutelage of Christ.
Peter struggled to understand Christ outside of the image of the Messiah he had fixed in his mind from many years of learning at the feet of his culture. He had been trained to see in the image of the Messiah a military leader who would bring Israel back to her rightful glory and in the case of Peter’s time to raise an army to overthrow the evil Roman Empire. His eye was trained to see what he most wanted; what his society most wanted; instead of seeing the alternate image that God was giving to the world in Christ Jesus.
We are no different either. We are trained to see the world and events in a certain manner by the teachings of our families and cultures. I got the opportunity to see this first hand as I came into contact with several different cultures as a preschool teacher in Danbury. I was working with an immigrant family from China and wanted to sit down for a parent teacher conference with the parents. But when the day came I met with mom, dad, and the uncle, who was a strong participant in the meeting. He had very definite ideas and desires for his niece’s education and the parents took a silent back seat role in the meeting. This was foreign to me and I had a really difficult time understanding what was going on until I read in a class about it.
In their culture, the uncle takes on the role as mentor and educational advocate. But with my own upbringing and training, I only saw what I raised to see as normal. In my understanding, parents made the decisions for their children when it came to education. Extended families had very little say or role in the formal education a child. That family showed me something new and it took me a while to adjust my thinking and my beliefs. But I did eventually make the adjustment and I came to understand something about my own assumptions and to see that those assumptions closed off a whole world of diversity.
Peter was working with his own assumptions that he didn’t know how to see beyond or even that he should. He didn’t even realize that God was calling upon him to be more open-minded and not to pigeonhole the Holy into human definitions. It is so hard to think outside of our preconceptions and to accept that things may not happen the way we have always thought they would. Peter is just like us and Jesus was asking him to stop seeing the Messiah as the militaristic king of the people destined to lead the people to victory. God was working in a different way. God was doing something new. He was sending a different kind of Messiah. He was not sending someone to work within human politics but rather a Messiah who is supposed to be the “Son of Man” as discussed in the book of Daniel.
The Son of Man was by definition very different from the traditional understanding of Messiah. Son of Man carried with it the connotation of Jesus’ glorious, celestial, supernatural, and divine nature. With this understanding of the Messiah, we are encouraged not to define Christ by such rigid definitions and more by who God will reveal the Son of Man to be. And, I use the future tense on purpose here because God is still revealing who Jesus is to us each and every day. We may not always see it clearly because our minds are not as open as they should be and instead of seeing both the rabbit and the duck we only see the one image we are trained to see. Faith in Christ is about letting go of preconceptions and allowing for God to slowly reveal himself to us. Anne Lamott, a 21st century author and speaker, wrote “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remember Father Tom had told me – that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns”.
So if you find yourself unsure, at times filled with doubt, and scared, know that it is through the uncertainty that our minds are opened to the possibilities of Christ and the work of Lord in our everyday lives. So this second week of Lent, I encourage you to examine your preconceptions about God and Christ and to take time to work towards opening your minds to the mysteries of the Holy very much alive today just as it was in Jesus’ time. We are called to put the tempter, al-Satan, behind us and to sit at the feet of Christ willing and ready to learn. Remember Jesus said to Peter when Peter rebuked him for sharing the coming of his own death and resurrection, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. Let us go forth into the week, working to allow for the divine to mystify us and to open our eyes in new and exciting ways. Let us turn our focus from those humanly things that prevent us from truly experiencing the divine because to truly feel the gift of Christ we need to allow for God to just be God.
 Anne Lamott, 21st century author and speaker.
 Mark 8: 33, NRSV.
(Based on Mark 8: 31-38)