There is this simple little cartoon I’ve seen. It pops up every now and then on Facebook, so you too may have seen it. It is a picture of Jesus, kneeling down next to a little girl. The little girl, looking a bit worried, is clinging to this tiny little old ragged dirty teddy bear. Jesus, has his hand stretched out as if asking the girl to let go of her beloved stuffed animal and he gently says the words “Trust Me”. The little girl replies, “But, I love it.” What she doesn’t see is that behind Jesus’ back he is ready to present her with a beautiful new, much larger teddy bear. If only she would trust Jesus and let go of that little bear.
Now, in this little cartoon the illustrator uses this teddy bear to make their point, but the teddy bear is more than just a material item, more than a tangible object. We don’t want to get fixated on material goods, like “If I give more to the church then God will give me that fancy car I’ve had my eye on.” That interpretation brings us the wrong direction. Rather, the bear is a very simple symbol representing the fact that people, including you and me, cling to the things they know. The things they are comfortable with. The things that make sense to them, unwilling to trust God’s direction and will in their life. At times, we cling to an idea or a path that we have determined is best. The path we have decided for ourselves what we will do, where we will go, how things should happen and when they don’t turn out that way, we cling even harder, unwilling to accept anything else.
We cling to this little bear, missing the fact that God, the Creator of the universe, the author and perfecter of our faith, our good good heavenly father, has the big picture in mind and he is delighted to share his goodness and blessing with those who put their trust in him.
We see something very similar happening in Mark chapter 8. Peter and the other disciples, along with the Jews in general, had this idea that the Messiah would be this great military or political leader who would help them overthrow Roman rule and restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations of the world. They had this idea in mind, this “teddy bear” they were clinging to, their own idea of the type of Messiah they wanted…. But it is as if Jesus says, “You’re right Peter, I am the Messiah, but unlike what you have decided the Messiah should be, I’ll be rejected and killed”. Peter is so upset he misses the next part. Jesus says, “I’ll be rejected and killed but I will rise again…..”
Peter is clinging to his own ideals, his own understanding, his own little teddy bear and misses the big picture. He misses the fact that Jesus has something so much more magnificent to offer him. Jesus is claiming that the Messiah has power over death and offers life…glorius, wonderful. eternal life.
I sympathize with Peter, because I don’t know how many times I have read this passage and missed the whole resurrection part. We almost join in with Peter’s misunderstanding and rebuke and skip right over God’s plan. As I thought more about this and as I came to this realization about Peter, it made me realize that I’ve been guilty of holding on to my own little safe, comfortable teddy bear as well.
I’ve been guilty of holding on to my self determined hopes and dreams, plans. I’ve been guilty of holding on to my way and to the things that I want. I’ve been guilty of not trusting that God has the big picture in mind, and his way, if followed is as if he replaces my old tattered tiny dirty little teddy bear and replaces it with something immeasurable and awesome, a teddy bear so big I can’t even get my arms around it. Like those big ones you win at the fair, and you see the kids trying to get their arms around it.
What happens to Peter happens to us from time to time. We get caught up in a worldly understanding of a given situation. Like Jesus says, we set our minds not on divine things but on human things. In other words, we don’t understand that God has a more excellent way. Peter is an example of that. I’m an example of that and I imagine some of you too may be sitting there thinking, “I am an example of that.”
Friends, this all can be traced back to the beginning, to the Fall, when pride infected the human race. Adam and Eve were in the garden enjoying perfect bliss and peace but Eve was approached by Satan who tempted her to disobey God’s command not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but unfortunately not only did Eve disobey but Adam also did, thus infecting mankind with the curse of sin and death. What essentially happened was the first couple were not trusting in the fact that God’s way was more excellent. They weren’t trusting in his care and provision. Instead, they were clinging tightly to their wants, their curiosity, their desire and their own way. Pride crept in and led them to a place where they were unwilling to fully trust and depend on God.
This sin of pride and lack of trust, didn’t disappear back in Genesis. For it was pride that constantly led the Israelites to disobey God and do it their own way. Think about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, mocking Moses and complaining, saying they wished they had been left in captivity in Egypt. They clung to their teddy bear, they refused to trust God over and over.
This didn’t stop back in the wilderness, for it was pride that led Peter to rebuke Jesus after he tells him what is going to happen. Jesus says “I am going to be betrayed, arrested, killed……” Peter couldn’t take it, he wanted the Messiah that he wanted and he didn’t want his understanding or ideals challenged. This also didn’t disappear back in the time of Jesus and Peter, for it is pride that leads all of us to cling to our own wants and desires, and that goes for those that seem good and noble.
Sometimes we need to realize that following Christ and fully depending on God means denying ourselves, our wants, our desires, our ideas and understandings and let God lead, let him transform us.
I will confess that I can be a worrier and my worry comes out of my aspirations and the way I think things should be, and I worry when things aren’t trending in the way I think is best. You see, I am that little girl in the cartoon, clinging to that teddy bear and whether it has to do with my kids accomplishments, or my husband’s, or the parishes I serve at, or my job or the ministry I am a part of, I have certain goals, and ideas. At times, I focus on that so much that I miss the big picture and when things don’t go the way I picture, it is easy to worry and get upset or angry. When that happens I cut myself off from seeing the path and blessing God has for me.
So, I sympathize with Peter, because I am so much like him. He missed the big picture, blinded by his own pride, blinded by what he thought was best and I would guess, some of you out there can relate. I am an idea person. I have vision. I am a doer and I love to be moving forward and I believe those are qualities that God has blessed me with, so please don’t misunderstand me in thinking that I am saying having dreams and aspirations are bad, because that is not the case. It is only when our dreams and aspirations are so rigidly defined by our human understanding when they become an idol, when they become troublesome and keep us from fully seeing all that God has in store. Don’t cling so tightly to that little teddy bear that you miss the blessings God has for you. Trust in him. Depend on him. Deny yourself, and follow him.