A couple of week ago, I preached on Jesus’ famous question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). It’s a belief question. Jesus is asking the question, “What do you believe about me?” Peter seems to answer correctly but not completely. He says, “You are the Christ (the Messiah).”
In Bowen Theory, there is this idea that beliefs can serve a relationship function. That is, the force for togetherness (to be emotionally close during stressful times) motivates people to think the same way. So, one way to read this text is that Peter’s thinking lines up with Jesus’ thinking. Peter thinks that Jesus thinks what Peter thinks! But that’s where the similarities in thinking end.
Jesus goes on to define his “messiahship” in a way that is different than what Peter thinks. Jesus discusses his impending death which gets an anxious response from Peter. Dr. Bowen observed in families a change back process. When one person expresses feelings, thinking or actions that are contrary to what another important person feels, thinks or acts they push back to get the other person to agree with them. This change back process is visible during periods of heightened anxiety in the relationship system. In the example above, Peter engages in the change back process. “Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.” (Mark 8:32b). Jesus’ response is worth a read if you are interested.
Following the arrest of Jesus, Peter and the others abandon him, even denying that they ever knew him. Fear is a driver of the emotional process. Jesus is ultimately put to death. In the story of the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples and to Peter. Putting the theological implications aside for the moment, let’s look at the response of Jesus in the resurrection appearance.
In the resurrection accounts, Jesus appears to the disciples. He is not angry for being abandoned, nor seeking retribution for the betrayal. He reestablishes the relationship with the disciples. Christians historically talk about this with words like “love,” “forgiveness,” “reconciliation,” etc. These are beliefs and core principles that Jesus taught and that the early church embodied. Whatever word you want to use, the point is that Jesus does not escalate what is already an anxious and tense situation because he acts out of his beliefs and core principles.
In many ways what is needed in any relationship process is a leader who understands that when anxiety is high, humans act at their worst. But if one can hang with those who are reactive, not react back and relate to others based on a belief or core principle it is possible for the relationship system to adjust at a new, higher level.