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Get Thee Behind Me

Mark 8:31-38

The Rev. Jon Roberts

25 February


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” 34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


Jesus denying Satan, Carl Bloch, 1870
Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

Get thee behind me, Satan
I want to resist
But the moon is low and I can't say "no"
Get thee behind me

Get thee behind me, Satan
I mustn't be kissed
But the moon is low and I may let go
Get thee behind me

Someone I'm mad about
Is waiting in the night for me
Someone that I mustn't see
Satan, get thee behind me

He promised to wait
But I won't appear and he may come here
Satan, he's at my gate
Get thee behind me
Stay where you are
It's too late.[1]

These are the lyrics written by one of the greatest composers, Irvin Berlin and sung by the “Queen of Jazz”, Ella Fitzgerald. One may be wondering how the temptation of a lover in this song relates to the rebuke of Jesus he gives to Peter, “Get behind me Satan”. For someone who won thirteen Grammy Awards and sold forty million records in her lifetime, we learn that fame and fortune does not make you immune to temptation. Ella had a tumultuous life. Born in Virginia Beach, as a child she was emotionally and physically abused by her stepfather. When her mother and stepfather died, she was turned over to an orphanage and then to a reformatory school. She made a living by running bets between gamblers on sports and on the weekends taking the train to Harlem. It was there that she discovered the Apollo Theatre and was given a chance to sing. Booed initially, she remembered a song that her mother sang, and delivered with beautiful clarity. Once ended, the crowd cheered for more.[2] It was on the stage, in 1938, where she received the affirmation, she desired. For the rest of her life, it would read as a success, but the temptations were great, especially when the moon was low and she couldn’t say ‘no.’ After the second of three divorces, the judge even reprimanded her, saying, “Go sing a tisket a’ tasket, but leave the boys alone.” Twenty years later, Ella sang this song for another star struck by the temptation of finding acceptance and love. Marilyn Monroe, who never missed one of Ella’s shows at the Macombo, requested this song. There are moments for people like Ella and Marilyn, when they really know the words, “Get behind me Satan.”[3]

We hear these words in today’s Gospel, and they do not seemingly meet the same standard for Jesus as they did for Ella. She was tempted to meet a love who would fill what was empty and broken. Jesus was tempted to meet a love for self-preservation. Each temptation has everything to do with the choice. There is the imagery of an angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other, whispering, singing a sweet song that is hard to resist. A choice to refuse the calling of self or the calling of God. One that says you deserve to be happy, not tortured or oppressed. It tempts you to follow sin over righteousness, to take the easy way out rather than the hard way into. The voice seems to never go away. It often calls in your moment of greatest weakness, when the moon is low, when the mind is willing, and the body can’t find a way to say, ‘no’.
What exactly was the temptation of Christ, to place such a rebuke on the most loyal and dedicated disciple? Jesus was chaste, by delivering a lyric to his disciples with beautiful clarity. He tells what will happen between this world and the next, and they should not resist. The Son of Man will go through great suffering, rejected by the elders, the high priests, and scribes, he tells them. He will be killed and after three days rise from the dead. This was no longer a secret. The Father above disclosed this through His Son Jesus and he did so, ‘quite openly.’[4] But Peter would not welcome this song. He preferred the one of power and strength. “Look here Jesus,” you can hear Peter say. “We have thousands of people coming to hear you teach and preach, to heal and to set free. We have a movement like no other. I will not let this come to an end. I will make sure no harm comes to you.” Jesus did not rebuke him because he had no faith. Jesus rebuked him because he had no faith in the path that God chose ahead. Believing God will answer your prayers means you have to accept however it unfolds. Between our faith in believing in God and our faith in believing God’s will be done, the voice of the Satan, the accuser can be heard. But when the moon is low and it’s hard to say ‘no’, Get behind me Satan.

If Jesus would have allowed to be fall under the protective nature of Peter, who was only acting on his own insecurities, he would have been dependent on human intervention, not divine intervention. He had to resist. To betray the will of the Father would have been adulterous, and worse, idolatrous, yea, sinful. What would have been the outcome if Jesus would have felt he deserved to be protected by Peter and the rest? He was tempted in every way as we are and yet did not sin. Then, the moment ahead in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Get behind me Satan, I mustn’t be kissed. But the moon is low, and I may let go.” Even as Judas approached, kissing Jesus on the cheek, he thought, “Get behind me.”

When we are presented with temptation, do we fall back and fortify our position or do we open ourselves and say, “Lord, I am yours. Please allow my service to glorify thee.” That’s why Jesus allows us to be tempted, because he knows that of the ten times you fall, there will be the one time you resist. He is counting on you to listen to Him and obey at your midnight hour, when the moon is low and it’s hard to say, ‘no.’ But when it does come know that your faith in Jesus, must turn to your faith in the path He has in store for you. The sting of sin, the fall, the disjointedness of our relationship with Jesus is a consequence of not following his commands. That is why we recite the Decalogue in Lent. What if we made a rule that when each of the commandments is spoken, those who have violated them must get up and leave? We would clear the church by the seventh or eighth one perhaps. But God takes no joy wagging his finger in your face. His rebuke is to help you get out of your temptation so that you learn how to follow Him. We want to, but it can be so hard. Christ is calling you to face your temptations, face your weakness, listen to his voice that calls so eloquently, to join him in singing His song, not your own. What do you do when the moon is low. Is it hard to say ‘no’? Do you deny yourself and take up your cross? Anything or anyone who dares to take you off the course of following the way of Jesus ahead, all you can do is turn and say, “Get thee behind me.”

[1] Music by Irving Berlin, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, 1958.
[4] Mark 8:31-36

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