21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)
Have you ever used an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera? When I was in high school, I was part of both the newspaper and yearbook staff. This required me to be trained in using a 35mm camera to take pictures. If you have used one of these, you know that it is important to turn the ring on your lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Most people today use cameras, or their smartphones, which automatically focus the picture for you. Some even allow you either before or after you take the picture to use a filter which blurs the background so the subject stands out in the picture. Focus is the point in our Bible passage for today.
Jesus talks about his upcoming persecution and death at the start of the passage. Peter takes him aside and tells him to stop this kind of talk. We do not know if Peter is more concerned about Jesus losing his momentum talking about his death,, or if he does not want to think about the pain Jesus’s death will cause Peter. Jesus says that Peter is focused on human concerns and not on the purpose which centers Jesus’s mission. Then Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding discipleship. If one chooses to follow Jesus, they must let go of their own earthly concerns and image of life. The focus must be on the priorities of the Lord which impact their spiritual life.
Where we focus impacts how we understand life and influences the priorities which we set. If our focus is on the comforts of life then our time, energy and commitment will be directed toward obtaining and maintaining those comforts. Being more concerned about building our empire on earth than the wellbeing of our spiritual self leads us to focus on our earthly life. Jesus encourages us to be willing to release our earthly goals when they come into conflict with the spiritual goals which Jesus has shown us to be important. We are challenged in this passage to allow the background of life to blur so that we can remain focused on the vision which Jesus presents for our eternal future.